Screening Looking for Light: Jane Bown

Past event archive
14 August 2014, 18:30

Ondaatje Wing Theatre

  • Late Shift||Lecture

Samuel Beckett, by Jane Bown, 1976 - NPG  - © Jane Bown

Samuel Beckett
by Jane Bown
NPG P373

A revealing portrait of Jane Bown, legendary Observer photographer, emerges through conversation, anecdote and candid reflection. (dir Luke Dodd and Michael Whyte, UK 2014, 90 mins). Followed by Q&A with directors Luke Dodd and Michael Whyte.

'some people take photographs, I find them...'

In the almost six decades that Jane Bown (b 1925) worked for the Observer newspaper, she became renowned for insightful, highly individualistic portraits of the famous. Some of these portraits of subjects including Samuel Beckett, Queen Elizabeth II, the Beatles, Bertrand Russell, Mick Jagger, and Margaret Thatcher are now regarded as classics of the genre.  Bown's great mantra is, 'photographers should neither be seen nor heard'. Diminutive in stature and with an all-important ability to blend into the background, Bown was the antithesis of the Fleet Street, macho photojournalist. An economy informed everything she did - she never employed assistants or props, carried her cameras in a shopping basket, worked almost exclusively in black and white, and like Cartier-Bresson, was profoundly uninterested in camera technology - she used Olympus OM1s from the early 1970s, exclusively.  Bown never stage-manages her subjects and prefers to shoot in available light. Instead of using a light meter, she gauges the camera settings by the way daylight fell on the back of her hand. Many of her best shots were taken in 10 minutes - she faced down a very camera-shy Samuel Beckett at the stage door of the Royal Court in London and, with obvious defiance, he stood long enough for her to expose 5 frames. Bown's Beckett is regarded as the iconic image of the 20th century's most iconic playwright.

For her services to photography, Jane Bown was awarded an MBE in 1985 and this was 'upgraded' to a CBE in 1995.

Seats for our free events are allocated on a first come, first served basis and are subject to availability.

The DVD Looking for Light: Jane Bown is available to buy in Gallery shops and online

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