We see it every day. Or do we? Do we actually see, as in look and engage? We certainly pass by it night and morning and at times in between. It hangs on the bedroom wall, beside the spiral staircase, this portrait of John Lennon by stellar photographer and photojournalist, Jane Bown. And how do we come to have this particular treasure?
From 1949 and over the next 6 decades Jane Bown (1925-2014) was the The Observer newspaper’s photographer (The Observer being the sister Sunday paper of The Guardian weekly i.e in the days before its 2008 sell-off). Some time in the early 2000s, not long after we had repatriated ourselves after eight years in Kenya and Zambia, and were living in Kent, The Guardian offices in Farringdon Road, London, announced it was having a small exhibition of Bown’s work, not only portraits but also the chance to look at the contact sheets from particular shoots. There would also be the opportunity to buy one of the limited edition reprints. So: one Saturday morning we took ourselves off to the capital by train, not a small event for two dislocated souls not then caught up with the way things worked in the home nation.
The key thing about Jane Bown’s work is she always used natural light – never deploying flash or even using a light meter.
Famously reluctant to talk about her working method, Jane once admitted that for the brief moment when she looked at somebody through a lens, what she felt could best be described in terms of an intense love.
But to go back to the earlier question of how far we engage with the objects we surround ourselves with. Doubtless many have sentimental attachments – gifts, mementos, inherited items from loved ones; some are domestic tools, artefacts for cooking, home maintenance, cleaning, eating, and therefore deemed essential; others are specially acquired assemblages: dolls, snow globes, china pigs, model cars, snuff boxes, original art, books, orchids: stuff. Of course, given the quantity of possessions most of us house, if we gave due consideration to each and every one of them each day there would be no time to do anything else. There could be an element of the King Midas curse in this?
And the portrait of John Lennon? There is no doubting that when his presence is fully acknowledged, the times I stop and behold, he does feel like a presence. The keenness of gaze is almost too poignant. I start wondering what he might say to us now – in these times ‘of lies, damn lies, and statistics’. I’m thinking he might tell us to WAKE UP!