Monday, 5 April 2010

Jane Bown Exposures at the NPG

It's been the final day of this exhibition of Observer staff photographer Jane Bown's work. I say exhibition. It's really more of a small selection of prints designed to promote her book of the same name which is now on sale in the National Portrait Gallery's gift shop.

Still, it's nice to see Bown's photos in exhibit-print size. I have one of the Glyndebourne 75th anniversary posters which makes use of Bown's beautiful, spontaneous photo of an opera-goer in the grounds of the opera house during the 60s. Indeed, the exhibition, for all its brevity, demonstrates why Bown was used by the paper, an organ of reportage. Easily the most successful photo in this selection is the 1976 portrait of Samuel Beckett. It looks carefully composed, a close cropped head shot of the playwright, scrutinising his Auden-creased face and distilled countenance in one. Yet the picture was an opportunistic snap, one of only three frames caught by Bown, picketing the entrance to the Royal Court Theatre after Becket had changed his mind about giving The Observer a more formal portrait (the print is also a different crop to that of the reproduction in the book).

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