It’s all in the eyes

Wish I could get to England in the next month. There’s an exhibition at King’s Place Gallery of the work of Jane Bown. She’s the Jane Marple of photography: an unassuming but brilliant portrait photographer who has captured one killer photo after another for the last five decades – everybody from the Beatles to the Queen, including a great shot of Henri Cartier-Bresson, as well as wonderful photos of less distinguished subjects, like this shot of a child’s shoes.
Bown’s approach was the one I aspire to: “The best pictures are uninvited, they’re suddenly there in front of you…easy to see, but difficult to catch. Some people take pictures, I find them.”
It’s not unique for someone who started taking photographs in the 1940s or 1950s to have started with an SLR and a fixed-focal length or “prime” lens. Zoom lenses didn’t become widely available until the later 1960s and even then, they generally weren’t very good. What’s remarkable about Bown is that she stuck with what she had all her life: a simple Olympus SLR and an 85mm f/2.8 lens. Does not seem to have held her back.
To compare great things with (very) small, I want to mention another photographer whose work I just stumbled on, Thomas Shahan. Shahan photographs bugs. Not my favorite subject, but I hasten to admit that I don’t have Shahan’s extraordinary gift for it. I’m not terribly interested in macro photography. I care little and know even less about bugs and flowers or any of the other minutiae that macro photographers are passionate about. But it’s impossible not to be impressed by Shahan’s stunning photos. Like Jane Bown and most photographers of people, Shahan focuses on the eyes – but how different those eyes are! Apparently he shoots now with a Pentax K200D. You can find his Flickr site here.

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