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April 8, 2014 3 Comments

Point and shoot: photographer Jane Bown at home with Channel 4 News

You are immediately struck by her piercing blue eyes..these beady eyes are darting around seemingly estimating my features. Jane Bown sits, now in her 90th year, a tiny figure in her enormous high backed armchair.

I’m looking at one of the greatest women photographers of her age. She speaks in staccato sentences, and she has much to speak about. Her Queen Anne home in Hampshire is beautifully decorated in a period style, bar one room which is, wall to wall, her pictures.

Six decades of them, almost exclusively for the Observer. Every time you see one, it seems to be the only representation of the subject that you can ever remember. A sideways headshot of the philosopher Bertrand Russell; a fantastic square on, craggy shot of Samuel Becket.

Her work spans six decades with the newspaper. Her trademark is black and white. She eschews colour and has absolutely no time for digital. She hails from the age when male news photographers were the dominant, the norm, and women were all but unknown, save her.

“I just took my chances,” she says. “I was de-mobbed from the Wrens after the war, and saw one of the courses offered at a local college was photography, and I thought, ‘why not?’”

She is self-deprecating, or modest by degrees until she mentions one thing – “I’m very good at the technical”. Jane Bown is talking shutter speeds, exposures, and focusing. That skill enables her to avoid ever posing her subjects. She grabbed them, one shot, and that was it.

I am distressed to find that she had dug out two shoots she did with me when I took over as presenter of Channel 4 News 25 years ago. There were a hundred shots…perhaps she just could not capture me, I was just too boring. She has caught every Prime minister since Winston Churchill. I ask her about a particularly happy one of Gordon Brown. “Oh he was lovely,” she says.

And Tony Blair, I ask? “Oh he was difficult,” she says, “I just could not get him.” I ask her why not. “I’m not sure there was anything there,” she says with a giggle.

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March 28, 2014 7 Comments

A good, old-fashioned hack: Chapman Pincher at 100

Journalist Chapman Pincher, who celebrates his 100th birthday on Saturday, exposed the treacheries of cold war spies, from George Blake to John Vassall.

March 27, 2014 9 Comments

Running out of time to tackle climate change

On Monday, the United Nations will launch its toughest – and potentially most alarming – report yet on climate change. Jon Snow meets Ban Ki-moon in Greenland.

March 25, 2014 6 Comments

I am on the edge of the Arctic Circle…

Next Monday sees the publication of one of the strongest climate change reports the United Nations has ever commissioned. It looks set to be a terrifying document.

March 17, 2014 38 Comments

Time to see the world through Russian eyes?

The vote is done. Crimean matters have come to a head. But how did we get into the mess, which now has ‘the west’ scurrying around looking for reprisals against Russia?

March 14, 2014 23 Comments

Tony Benn: aristocratic fighter for those less privileged than himself

Tony Benn was a clutter of paradoxes: impossibly aristocratic, his sympathy and passion were for those who could never aspire to live, like him, in Holland Park Avenue.

March 2, 2014 14 Comments

Is news ruining our lives?

I argue that we stand at the dawn of the golden age of what we have come to describe as journalism.

February 27, 2014 11 Comments

The fate of the beauteous barn owl

It is midnight and I am standing in a barn, deep in the west Berkshire countryside, searching for barn owls – the beautiful British birds threatened by rat poison and climate change.

February 24, 2014 3 Comments

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Bach and the Wapping Hydraulic

Jonny Greenwood, guitarist, viola player and computer whizzkid of Radiohead electrifies an audience at Wapping Power Station. But that’s no surprise – this is London.

February 20, 2014 11 Comments

RTS awards: Channel 4 News wins Programme of the Year

Channel 4 News wins Programme of the Year at the RTS awards and dedicates the win to late cameraman Graham Heslop.

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