Jane Bown CBE (1925-2014, British Photographer)

Jane Bown and her cat Mona, The Old House, Alton, 2011

Jane Bown and Mona, The Old House, Alton, 2011

Jane Bown, CBE (1925-2014, British) is most famous for her black and white portraits of famous celebrities. Her style has often been compared to that of Henri Carter-Bresson.

Bown was involved in the D-Day invasion as a mapper, and due to her employment by the government was able to secure a grant to attend the Guildford School of Art where she studied photography.  Bown’s first photography jobs were taking wedding portraits.  However, she quickly secured her fame in 1949 after taking a photograph of the British philosopher Bertrand Russell.  Thereafter, she photographed hundreds of celebrities throughout her long career with the Observer including John Lennon, Truman Capote, Jean Cocteau with his cat, Brassai, and Queen Elizabeth, to name only a few.

Bown was concerned about the spontaneity of a photograph and worked quickly. She is known to have never prepared and often knew nothing of her subjects. She is quoted as saying, “For that second when I look through the lens I absolutely love the sitter…And then I’m gone.” Her main concern was always the light, but she never used the camera’s light meter. Camera equipment did not interest her. She used only a Rolliflex in the early 60’s and then switched to using only secondhand Olympus cameras. Bown said that the last time she had changed her camera was 50 years ago, and “All I need is a good cat and the right light.”  Bown worked primarily in black and white saying that “Color is too noisy…The eye doesn’t know where to rest.”

Just as Bown caught the essence of her celebrities, she also captured cats’ true nature and emotions.  A cat lover herself, she compiled a book of cat photographs, Jane Bown: Cats.  

Bown died at age 89. Lord Snowdon described her as “a kind of English Cartier-Bresson” who produced “photography at its best. She doesn’t rely on tricks or gimmicks, just simple, honest recording, but with a shrewd and intellectual eye.”

 

 

Cat Action Trust, London, 1980 Jane Bown

Cat Action Trust, London, 1980

 

 

 

Cat show, Olympia, 1976, Jane Bown

Cat show, Olympia, 1976

 

 

 

Cat, Jane Bown

 

 

 

 

David Knopfler’s Kitten, 1979, Jane Bown

David Knopfler’s Kitten, 1979

 

 

 

Fish market, Milford Haven Docks, 1979, Jane Bown

Fish market, Milford Haven Docks, 1979

 

 

 

Jane Bown, Cat in a Restaurant Window, Penzance, 1960

Cat in a Restaurant Window, Penzance, 1960

 

 

 

Jane Bown, Cat on a Door Sill

Cat on a Door Sill

 

 

 

Jean Cocteau with Cat Madeleine, Paris, 1950, Jane Bown

Jean Cocteau with Madeleine, Paris, 1950

 

 

 

Laughing cat, Italy, 1985, Jane Bown

Laughing Cat, Italy, 1985

 

 

 

Miss Wyatt who had been feeding cats in Fitzroy Square since 1953, taken in 1978 from Jane Bown

Miss Wyatt who had been feeding cats in Fitzroy Square since 1953, taken in 1978

 

 

 

Queenie and Dusty, Sevenoaks, 1967 from Jane Bown Cats

Queenie and Dusty, Sevenoaks, 1967

 

 

 

Show cat in travelling basket, National Cat Club Show, 1976, Jane Bown

Show Cat in Travelling Basket, National Cat Club Show, 1976

 

 

 

Show cats at the National Cat Club Show, 1983, photographed by Jane Bown

Show Cats at the National Cat Club Show, 1983

 

 

 

Tombola, Tom Gosling and Tammy, Hampshire, 1985, Jane Bown

Tombola, Tom Gosling and Tammy, Hampshire, 1985

 

 

 

White Cat, Hampshire, c.1987, Jane Bown

White Cat, Hampshire, c.1987

 

 

 

White Cat, Jane Bown

White Cat

 

 

Want to know more about the cat in art, history and literature? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats

 


 

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