The Jane Bown Collection

Scope and Content

The collection holds a near complete set of portrait and photo-journalistic work produced by Jane Bown between 1947-2008. It also contains personal papers, work books, correspondence, diaries and artefacts relating to all aspects of Bown's photographic practice.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jane Bown was born in Dorset, and educated at William Gibbs School, Faversham. She became a chart corrector for the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) from 1944-46 before studying photography at Guildford School of Art, Surrey from 1946-50.

She joined the Observer in January 1949 and her first published work for the paper - a portrait of Bertrand Russell - was printed the same month.

From 1964 to 1967 she worked in colour for the newly launched Observer Colour Magazine but disliked it and returned to working predominantly in black and white.

Her extensive photojournalism output includes series on gypsies, Greenham Common evictions, and in 2002, the Glastonbury Festival. Her sitters include Queen Elizabeth II, Jean Cocteau, Samuel Beckett, Woody Allen, John Betjeman, Jayne Mansfield and the Beatles.

Her exhibitions include 'The Gentle Eye', National Portrait Gallery, London (1980-1); 'Rock: 1963-2003', The Newsroom, London (2003), 'Unknown Bown', The Newsroom (2007). Group shows include 'How We Are - Photographing Britain, Tate Britain, London, (2007). Publications include 'The Gentle Eye' (1980), 'Women of Consequence' (1986), 'Men of Consequence' (1987), 'The Singular Cat' (1988), 'Pillars of the Church' (1991), 'Faces: The Creative process Behind Great Portraits (2000), 'Rock: 1963-2003' (2003) and 'Unknown Bown' (2007).

Bown was awarded an MBE in 1985 and became a CBE in 1995.


Records of the Jane Bown Photography Collection are divided into 7 sections reflecting the full breadth of her on-going career and practice:

  • Black and White negatives
  • Colour negatives and transparencies
  • Prints
  • Correspondence (currently closed to researchers)
  • Personal papers
  • Promotional material
  • Diaries, Notebooks and Scrapbooks

Access Information

Open (part). Some of the collection which are of a more personal nature are unavailable to the public.
Records may be viewed in our reading room by appointment only, see our website for more information.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the archive by Jane Bown between 2002 and 2008.

Other Finding Aids

A full catalogue description for this collection can be found on the GNM Archive catalogue.