Exposures by Jane Bown, book review

Exposures by Jane Bown

Having a simple and reliable technique enabled Jane Bown to concentrate on the image and she built a reputation for being tenacious in getting the right shot. However she always shot economically and rarely used more than two films (72 frames) on any particular job.

As a photo-journalist for a major newspaper she was not precious about the use and cropping of her images. Even though she had her favourites she  left the selection for publication to the paper’s picture editors. With Exposures she has been able to show those favourites, many previously unpublished, as she originally saw them.

There are also sequences that describe how some of the images were obtained. Her tenacity is shown by the pictures of, a somewhat irritated, Samuel Becket on the cover which were grabbed in an alleyway. She is not overawed by her subject; she even heckled President Nixon in the street until he waited even checking she had her picture. There are other examples in Exposures of similarly determined pursuit of the ideal image.   

Exposures lets her photographic portraits speak for her 

Jane Bown always held the view that “photographers should be neither seen nor heard”. With Exposures she allows her work to speak for itself and it does so eloquently. She lefts it to her editor, Luke Dodd, and David Bailey who wrote the Foreword to put Jane Bown’s contribution into perspective. Exposures shows why Jane Bown is so well regarded by both other photographers and her subjects. It shows her work as expressive and capturing nuances of her subjects’ character without technique and the photographer’s style getting in the way.

Exposures shows an apparent simplicity of style and soundness of technique that is so difficult to achieve without intrusion. Exposures shows Jane Bown as the mistress of her art and it speaks for her better than mere words ever could.

Exposures (2010, ISBN: 978-0-85265-141-4) by Jane Bown is published as large format hard back by Guardian Books at £30 (Can$85). It is a valuable addition to her previous books such as The Gentle Eye (1980) and Unknown Bown 1947-1967(2007). I appreciate the portraitist's skill much more as a result of Exposures.

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