Photographer Jane Bown, a Woman of Consequence

I met Jane Bown at the The Observer newspaper in the early 80's as an older woman photographer she was an early inspiration. These images are from her book Women of Consequence. © Jane Bown, self portrait.

Jane Bown, is for me, a true woman of Consequence. A photographer who understood light like no other. A woman photographer working for one of the great newspapers of the world, who garnered editors and journalists respect ……..unlike anything I had experienced in Australia.

I met Jane when I started doing shifts on The Observer newspaper in 1980. She died last week aged 89. Jane must have been in her early 40’s but had been working at the Observer since 1949. I was in my early 20’s. She was pretty cool toward me for the first year, but when my boyfriend, at the time, decided to return to Australia, she took it upon herself to find me an English husband…….I’ll spare you those sad stories.

She was not to under estimated on the big jobs..I remember watching in awe Jane at the end of the Jeremy Thorpe trial, over 200 hundred photographers trying for the shot of him leaving court and there was Jane on the other side of his car on a small ladder being supported by two policemen. Needless to say it was the shot!

These images are from her book “Women of Consequence.

These words are from her Obituary in the Guardian Newspaper…….


“By the time Jane began working at the Observer in 1949, her trademark style – a unique capacity to blend the iconic with the informal – was already fully formed. Her account of the first Observer commission, which was a portrait of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, is classic Jane: concise, self-deprecating and modestly assured. “I was terrified, I don’t think I even knew who he was,” she said. “But the light was good …”

Working for the Observer suited Jane’s temperament. The relatively relaxed pace of a Sunday newspaper allowed her to combine a career with a full family life at home – Jane always travelled to London once a week for two days’ work.

An ideal shoot was one where she exposed no more than a roll and a half of film, often in just 15 minutes. Once she cornered the notoriously camera-phobic Samuel Beckett in a dark alleyway down the side of the Royal Court theatre in London as he tried to escape her lens. With simmering hostility, he stood long enough for Jane to expose five frames – the middle one is one of her most recognisable portraits and the best portrait of the playwright. The vast rollcall of other images includes figures as diverse as Jean Cocteau, the Queen, Mick Jagger, Jayne Mansfield, Rudolf Nureyev, Björk, John Betjeman, Sinéad O’Connor, the Beatles, Francis Bacon and Spike Lee.

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Comments 3

  1. Thanks Lorrie for the beautiful and affectionate portrayal of this accomplished photographer. These people will not be remembered unless they are bought to the attention of the public.

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