Backtrack On The Pithy Quote – Jane Bown As Example

Now that I’ve had time to reflect, I think my original pithy quote* is rubbish. I think I knew this all along.


Well, photographs are not real. They are made up things, and the meaning they hold, if any, are not truths. They may convey something, it may be an emotion or feeling, an impression, a position or viewpoint, or whatever, but it isn’t truth. What they convery may well even be true, but the photograph itself isn’t truth.

I absolutely adore the portrait work of Jane Bown. She really gets ‘something’ in them, some kind of feeling or impression, and it lasts. She’s got the touch and she produces those magic images that stick. Looking at her portraits you really feel a connection. But that still doesn’t mean they hold anything true about the sitter.

If you go here, to this Jane Bown portrait gallery, you will see that the second photograph is of Samuel Beckett. I think this is a truly great photograph, and it has had a lasting impact on me. It appeals to me in its moody tonality and the fact that it seems to be conveying emotions so well and with such strength. There’s a piercing, searching moodiness to the eyes that is countered somewhat by the slight upturn of the mouth, giving a suggestion of warmth or amusement. That’s what I get anyway. What was Beckett really like, in general and on that day in particular? While I do happen to know that earlier that day he was feeling uncooperative with regards to having his portrait taken, I have no idea what he was really like, not from this photograph. I might think I do, but I don’t. This photograph, while being a truly great portrait, isn’t really about him. It doesn’t tell me anything about what he really was like. Even if it is telling the truth.

To be continued…

* “…photographs are of people but portraits are about people”


One thought on “Backtrack On The Pithy Quote – Jane Bown As Example

  1. As always, insightful thoughts on matters photographic. And Jane Bown, a very fine portrait & documentary photographer. I’m lucky to own a couple of her collections: “The Gentle Eye” and “Women of Consequence”. Not a duff image in either 😊 You’re right about the Beckett photo, which appears in the former collection. Try her photo of Henri Cartier-Bresson from 1957; the focus is on the camera rather than the man. Thanks, as always for your thoughts… Tony


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