Jane Bown, A Lifetime of Looking

Jane Bown, A Lifetime of Looking  © Guardian Faber

Jane Bown (1925-2014) was very much more than a portrait photographer. She had a declared passion for photojournalism of which her portraits were only part. Jane Bown, A Lifetime of Looking shows some of that work alongside her better known portraits.

This latest collection of her work teases the viewer as it shows that she was  serious photojournalist, and her work is technically accomplished.  Jane Bown, A Lifetime of Looking gives an insight into her wider work as a journalist. It still gives the lead to her portraits though; it would be good to see more of her photojournalism especially as her portrait work is already so well documented. It is something of a missed opportunity.

A large format hardback  Jane Bown, A Lifetime of Looking is good value at £30. At the time of writing this review it is available at a discount from both Amazon and The Guardian Bookshop. It is well produced book and will satisfy anyone who enjoys Jane Bown's work, or photojournalism more generally. Hopefully readers will find a new side to Jane Book and come to appreciate her wider photographic talents.

The lengthy introduction by Luke Dodd, the book's editor, gives a comprehensive insight into Jane Bown, the photographer. He brings out her reserved, personality as he describes in detail her photographic approach and how it changed over the years. She used film sparingly often no more than a role and half (around fifty frames) on her portrait assignments. Compositionally and technically she was extremely precise and worked rapidly. Frequently got the shot with a single exposure; she knew instinctively when she had got "the" picture. That, of course, was in the days before digital and being able to review the result on the back of the camera.

Dodd stresses her love of photography. Apparently she often took pictures for her own amusement on the way to and from an assignment—always for The Observer where she spent the whole of her sixty year career. Her empathy and understanding of people, especially children, shines through all her work.

Jane Bown's work and style constantly delights and  encourages me as I seek a new direction for my work. From this book I am pleased to discover that, entirely coincidently,  I had recently begun using a similar approach to that used by Jane Bown, even though my choice of subject only occasionally overlaps hers. This is a book for anyone who appreciates fine photography and photojournalism, especially in black and white. Jane Bown shows that excellence transcends fashion, her work stands comparison with her peers from what may be a golden age of photojournalism.

Jane Bown, A Lifetime of Looking, edited by Luke Dodd (ISBN: 978-1-78335-085-8 is published by Guardian Faber at £30.

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