Entertainment & Arts

Observer newspaper photographer Jane Bown dies aged 89

Jane Bown taking pictures of Bette Davis Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jane Bown, far right, is shown taking pictures of Hollywood star Bette Davis in 1975

Photographer Jane Bown, known for her portraits of famous people including the Queen, the Beatles and Samuel Beckett, has died aged 89.

Bown joined the Observer in 1949 and continued to appear in the office every week for more than half a century.

Her other subjects included ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and artist Francis Bacon. Several of her pictures are in the National Portrait Gallery.

Observer editor John Mulholland called her "part of the Observer's DNA".

Bown last appeared in the Observer offices in August, although by then she was too frail to take photographs.

'Immense contribution'

Mr Mulholland said: "During more than 50 years working for the Observer, she produced some of the most memorable and insightful images of prominent cultural and political figures taken during the 20th Century.

"From the Queen to the Beatles, Samuel Beckett to Bjork, John Betjeman to Bob Hope, her beautifully observed pictures have become part of our cultural landscape.

"She is part of the Observer's DNA - her contribution to the paper's history, as well to Britain's artistic legacy, is immense, and will long survive her.

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Media captionJane Bown spoke to Radio 4's Woman's Hour in 2006

"She was loved by her colleagues and adored by our readers. We will miss her hugely."

The Observer's restaurant critic, Jay Rayner, wrote on Twitter: "It was a huge honour to work her on a few stories We shall not see the like."

'Entirely disarming'

He tweeted: "Jane Bown's method was entirely disarming: a camera pulled from a shopping bag, a gaze as if to check the subject was interesting enough.

"Then just a dozen or so shots and she was done. Somewhere in there would be an image that most everyone else would have taken 100 to get."

Image copyright BBC Jeff Overs

A profile for the Guardian earlier this year documented how Bown had been passed around maternal aunts as a child after being born to parents who were unmarried.

She later discovered one of her aunts, Daisy, was her mother.

Bown became a photographer in 1946 after applying on a whim to take a course at Guildford School of Art. She borrowed £50 from another aunt to buy her first camera.

She later said the Observer was the only newspaper she wanted to work for and that her ideal shoot was just ten minutes long.

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