I’ve been meaning to write this post since I heard the sad news last month of the passing of one of my photograhy heroes, Jane Bown. She died aged 89 so had a good innings. Apart form her wonderful pictures I loved the lack of ceremony about her. She shot everyone of note, from the Queen to Mick Jagger and apparently used to turn up with no lighting kit, no assistant, nothing but her camera IN A PAPER BAG. Just great!
She had a plummy voice and looked like a home counties house-wife. Perhaps it was this that disarmed her sitters into giving her a glimpse behind the mask. She worked all her life for the Observer. Check out a great obituary from the Guardian here.
There was a great little documentary made about her a few years ago, Looking for Light. Well worth a look. The title nicely captures the essence of what a photographer does. Not long after I was starting out I went to take a portrait of Ian Hislop in the ramshackle Private Eye offices in Soho. We did a few shots at his desk then a few in the doorway at the entrance, plus some in the street. They were going to press that day and in the DIY publishing atmosphere of the building the press itself had decided not to play ball. Suffice to say there was a lot of stress flying around and time was tight.
Once we’d finished I thanked him and let him get back to the fray. Before I left the building I looked through what I’d got and I realised I hadn’t got what I wanted. In fact what I’d got was rubbish (I can confirm that now having looked back at the contacts). I lead myself back in to the main office and waited whilst he talked to the technical people. When there was a gap in talking I jumped in and asked him if there was a possibility we could shoot one more set up. He reluctantly agreed.
When I’d scouted the building earlier that morning I spotted a small skylight window at the top of the stairs. The stairwell itself was very uninspiring however the skylight was at a three quarter angle giving the perfect Rembrandt light. I hauled him up there and for a couple of shots he focused and gave me the shot and I know I’d got it. He said on the way down that only myself and Jane Bown had spotted the potential of that little window at the top of the stairs and both snapped him there. I took that as a huge compliment. Here’s the pic: