Monthly Archives: November 2011

As noted in my post about Yousuf Karsh, there were two portrait photographers whose work caught my attention.  One was Karsh, the other is a British photographer named Jane Bown.  A photographer for The Observer since 1949, Bown’s portraits are straight-forward and without pretension and known for their wide variety of subjects. From politicians, clergy, and royalty to film stars, writers, and even ordinary people she met on the street, the photos have a simple and honest quality, capturing the individual and his personality rather than a contrived representation of him.

Samuel Beckett – such an iconic and fascinating face, but this photo is different than other representations I have seen – it is a simple image, so simple it might be called plain but for the astounding face captured in it.  Bown makes no attempt to fancy up her subject or her images, she shows them as they are.

Simplicity is key for Bown as she works to let her subject dominate the picture and fully engage the viewer.  She achieves this in large part by simplifying her photography: her camera is always set on its lowest aperture with a high shutter speed, usually 125. This gives a shallow depth of field that allows the setting to fade away, highlighting the subject with special focus on the eyes.

Personality is a primary focus for Bown.  She would usually only have ten or fifteen minutes to shoot, and to get a winner she would have to capture those fleeting moments when the individuality of her subject would shine through in an expression or gesture that shows who a person is in that moment.  This photo of Michael Caine exhibits the kind of moment that Brown would have looked for – a casual, comfortable gesture with his tea and cigarette, just being himself.

This photo of Bridget Riley is another beautifully captured moment.  Her expression is so genuine and unique – it seems that Bown is sharing a glimpse into the depth of her emotions, showing not only outer beauty but the natural beauty within.

Jane Bown is a forceful and talented photographer, though she calls herself a hack.  She doesn’t let the technical aspects of her art to get in the way of what is most important to her – a truthful image.  She has said, “I often feel that they [the subjects] were doing it, not me. I was just recognising what they were”, and that “some photographers make pictures, but I try to find them” – reasons why her photography speaks so strongly to me on a personal level as well as artistically.

Check out the citations below for some fabulous and fascinating articles (and links to more!) about Jane Bown and to see more of her work!



Spent the evening in the darkroom today – two solid hours of work and four finished pieces!  It is always relaxing working in the darkroom.  The work is methodical and I can lose myself in it, but there are still creative choices to be made, which staves off the tedium for the most part.  The work is exciting, too – after playing with the exposure time on the enlarger and making your test strips, slipping the paper into the developer and watching the image you have been crafting from the moment you opened the camera’s shutter appear beneath the rippling chemicals is magical.  It can be a little nerve-wracking also, hoping the exposure time was right and watching for the perfect moment to remove the paper from the developer, but perhaps I’m a bit too Type A.

I was working today with some interesting techniques that I hadn’t tried before – a radiogram, a negative print, and a “sandwich negative”.  For the radiogram I played with a sheer fabric that had a floral print, ribbon and translucent beads.  The woven texture and the floral pattern of the fabric came through quite nicely and the beads made an interesting pattern of light and dark.  I was relatively pleased with how it turned out, although if I were to do it again, I would probably double over the fabric to make the overall piece a bit brighter, hopefully so that more detail could be seen.

The negative print was a shot of roses that I printed several weeks ago, placed emulsion side down on fresh paper.  I think that the contrast in the original print is probably not ideal for this technique, but I really like the softness I was able to achieve in the negative, especially from such a sharply focused original.  These two, connected by their soft visual quality – one via contrast, the other via focus – will make a nice pairing.

The sandwich negative… was interesting.  Putting two negatives in a carrier together is something I can’t quite wrap my head around just yet – This one was okay as a first attempt, but it was not quite what I was expecting.  One of these negatives was a shot of the library at Oglethorpe University from a random roll I had taken a month or so ago and the other was from my Hands Study… but the hands did not come through as clearly as I had hoped.

I also ended up printing the Library photograph mentioned above by itself – I hadn’t gotten around to printing any of that film yet, so having the negative already in the carrier was as good an excuse as any to make another picture.

All of this work is drying at the moment, but (promises, promises) I will put them into this post as soon as possible.  Even my crappy sandwich negative.  And keep a lookout for the follow up to the post about Yousuf Karsh post from earlier this week – I mentioned another interesting portrait photographer and I am definitely going to make sure that everyone is introduced!

Over the past several days I have been researching photographers for a project I am planning to begin work on over the next couple of weeks. I have been looking into portrait photography as a way of branching out since most of my past work has been in still-lives, architecture, and landscape and discovered two portrait photographers whose work I really enjoy. One that I discovered is a man named Yousuf Karsh. His photos are truly captivating. He brings his subjects to life, or rather displays the life of each subject, in his beautifully detailed photographs that are notable for their depth, detail, and dimensionality. Looking at these photos it seems that the subject could catch your eye and strike up a conversation – it is as if they are truly present in the room with the viewer. Two of my favorite Karsh portraits are the portraits of Albert Einstein and Fidel Castro.

This portrait of what Karsh calls a “simple, kindly, almost childlike man” is beautiful in its simplicity. This face has become an icon symbolizing a great mind and all its wonderful accomplishments, but Karsh’s photo shows more – the soft detail, the expression of peaceful wisdom, and the kindly gesture emphasize the human element to connect with the viewer. This is more than a picture: it is a character study.

This is without doubt one of the most arresting photographs I have ever seen. Most people know about Fidel Castro and his leadership of the Cuban government and the effect it has had on the history of our modern world, both socially and politically, but when I saw this photo there was a brief moment where I forgot to breathe. This man who, like Einstein, is an icon of sorts – almost more of a pop-culture reference than a person, at this point – was suddenly so intensely real and human that I was taken aback. Perhaps it is in part a result of my age, but I had never thought of Castro in that way before.  His expression speaks to a fierce determination and confidence, despite the fact that Karsh states that Castro entered the room “looking grave and tired” and moved “with a weary gesture”.  Regardless of how I have ever felt about his politics and leadership, this fascinating photo makes me want to know more about Castro the man than I ever wanted to know about Castro the political figure.

Yousuf Karsh is capable of what I will always strive for in my photographs – to show things as they are rather than how they “should” or are perceived to be. The truth contained in these images is astounding and the humanity of the subjects beautiful.

Photos: Yousuf Karsh