Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Jane Bown - picking a good turnip
Image of Samuel Beckett outide the Royal Court Theatre, London, 1976 (c) Jane Bown
For me, the Observer photographer, Jane Bown, is the master of the black and white portrait. I love the story she tells of her tutor at the Guildford School of Art who told her that if she was going to photograph a turnip, then pick a good one. She picked some of the best. I still believe that black and white film excels for a portrait. I'm still experimenting with cameras, films and aperture settings.
I have a Nikon F100 35mm SLR film camera, a Nikon D70 digital SLR and a Hasselblad 500 medium format film camera. They are heavy, rugged and cumbersome - I like this type of camera that can be dropped on concrete and bounce back - they would not necessarily be the tools of choice for a street or documentary photographer, but I do practice these skills and hope I'm improving. It's the most difficult to walk around with a camera round your neck as if it was part of you. I'm not that good at sneaking around taking a shot of someone asleep on a bus but I do admire people who can do that. I do my best to make people relaxed and try and get them to be themselves and feel natural. I try and use 85-105mm lenses for portraits. Sometimes I take shots of people with a 300mm lens - this is less intrusive and people are more likely to be themselves if they don't feel a camera sticking in their face.
I think it is one of the delights of photography to experiment - there's no right or wrong answer. AA photogarph is 50% the skill of the photographer and 50% the way the subject is feeling. If the two elements combine well then a good result that will please both parties is more likely to result. Just make sure you pick a good turnip as the subject!