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December 05 2010

The 10 best photographic portraits

Penetrating profiles, from early-20th-century masterchefs to full-on modern celebrities

David Bailey: The Kray twins (1965)

The photographic guv'nor from east London. People have written him off so often but he is still shooting and as irascible as ever. I spotted him underneath a baseball cap recently and asked him how it was all going. "Nobody's using me, but the art world have discovered me!" he said. This picture of the Kray twins, whose gang ran a protection racket in London in the 60s, is classic Bailey: pure white background, no arms or hands, strong shape and form. I'm scared just looking at them.

Jane Bown: Sinéad O'Connor (1992)

I was lucky enough to work alongside Jane for nearly 15 years. This portrait of Sinéad O'Connor really stunned me when she took it and I have it on my wall. Her photographs are always simple and powerful and I love the defiance in this one, where, unusually, the subject isn't looking at the camera. Always preferring to work in black and white, Bown has dominated portraiture for 50 years. Respect.

August Sander: Baker (1928)

This is the forerunner for all those trendy chefs being photographed with meat cleavers and dead fish for today's food magazines. Baker, taken in 1928, was part of a mammoth series called People of the 20th Century. Sander wanted to take photographs of the entire German nation. He fell out with the Nazis and had his book Face of Our Time seized and the plates and negatives destroyed. Most of the rest of his work was looted after a bombing raid on his studio. Click here to see the image.

Chris Smith: Muhammad Ali (1971)

Chris Smith, who worked on this newspaper in the late 60s and early 70s, was my hero. His sports photographs won many awards and when I was lucky enough to get his job here on the Observer I was always worried about what he was going to produce in his new role at the Sunday Times. This photograph of Muhammad Ali in his prime, taken in the 5th Street Gym Miami Beach before the Frazier fight in 1971, was printed with a piece from Hugh McIlvanney. The Sunday Times let him go far too early. What a waste.

Murdo Macleod: Roy Keane (2002)

The best photographer working in Britain today. He doesn't take photographs so much as constructs them. A great ideas man who can light a Scottish glen. This photograph of Roy Keane was done in five minutes while Keane had a cab waiting in Manchester. Murdo had found the dead bird a few days before and he did a deal with Keane. "Hold this for a minute and you can go." What it means I don't know, but it is stunning and he uses it on the cover of his recent book Gnùis which means Genius… which he is!

Eve Arnold: Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits (1960)

This photograph, shot in Reno, Nevada in 1960 has an incredible sense of place and of Monroe's vulnerability. She and Arnold first worked together on a shoot for Esquire magazine in 1952 and, as Arnold says: "She trusted me, and the bond between us was photography." Magnum had sent nine photographers to cover the making of The Misfits, surely the most ever, but it was Arnold's work that really stood out. This was a looser, more intimate look than Hollywood had ever shown before in its publicity stills. Click here to see the image.

Anton Corbijn: John Lee Hooker's hand (1994)

Anton Corbijn is 6ft 7in tall – a great advantage when you are photographing rock bands playing live. Born in Holland, he went on to be the official photographer for U2. Now a great film-maker, he made the Joy Division biopic Control and The American, released last weekend. He got bored covering bands at gigs and became a portrait photographer, taking many risks with his hand-held Hasselblad camera. This portrait of John Lee Hooker, the blues guitarist, has no face but says so much about the hard life Hooker had.

Steve Pyke: Jerry Lewis (2000)

When Richard Avedon died, Steve Pyke was invited to take over the greatest portrait job in journalism: staff photographer on the New Yorker. A former music photographer and a man of many personal projects, this photograph of the comedian Jerry Lewis was one of the first portraits Pyke took for the magazine. Still working with his Rolleiflex camera and a close-up lens bought from a camera shop in Edinburgh, Pyke made his name with very tight portraits of everybody from philosophers to film stars.

Neil Libbert Subway, New York (1984)

I have never been any good at street photography – I have never had the nerve – but one man who does is Neil Libbert, who has used his Leica camera in some very difficult situations over the years. This photograph was taken on the subway in New York in 1984, when it was a very tough place to work. The woman would have never seen the camera and the Wall Street sign locates it in New York so well. Libbert also took the great exclusive photograph of nail-bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, London in 1999, which made the front page of the Guardian.

Don McCullin US marine (1968)

This photograph of a shell-shocked US marine in Hue, Vietnam in 1968 could be a self-portrait of McCullin himself. He too has seen too much while covering the major war zones around the world. He now lives in Somerset with his "ghosts", as he calls the negatives stored in his filing cabinets. His work has been compared to Goya's most terrifying imagery, which allows us to glimpse the unbearable. Born 10 years before me in Finsbury Park, north London, his first pictures were of a gang of teddy boys who had killed a policeman – one of the photographs appeared on the front page of this newspaper and launched his career. Click here to see the image.

Decade, a history of the past 10 years told in photographs, by Eamonn McCabe and Dr Terence McNamee is out now . To order for £19.96 with free UK P&P call 0330 333 6847 or go to © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 09 2010

Art of disaster

Jane Bown and Tom Hunter are among a host of celebrated photographers auctioning their works in London in aid of Oxfam's Samoan tsunami appeal

November 16 2009

Shoot a portrait and win a brand new Nikon D5000 camera worth over £400

Each month, Camera club gives a Guardian photographer – and you – a monthly assignment to complete. We want you to pick your favourite image from your assignment shoot and email it to us. The best of the bunch will a Nikon D5000 DSLR

In October and November, we have been celebrating 60 years of Jane Bown's portraits for the Observer with an exhibition at the Guardian and Observer's offices in Kings Place, London. Exposures: 60 years of Jane Bown portraits runs until 21 November, so if you've not been to see it yet, do hurry. Alternatively, the book of the same name is available to buy from Guardian Books. A perfect Christmas present, we think.

So for this month's camera club assignment, we asked Eamonn McCabe for his own take on how to emulate Bown's trademark style – a black and white portrait using available light. You can read his top tips here and see him in action shooting the Guardian's features writer Simon Hattenstone in this video.

To win the camera, we'd like you to shoot a portrait. The only stipulations are that it should be in black and white and using available light. We also have six copies of Exposures by Jane Bown to give away - one for this month's winner and five to go to runners-up.

Follow the instructions below to enter your picture into the competition.

How to enter
1. Take a new set of photos that meet the new monthly assignment brief: a black and white portrait shot with available light.
2. Pick one photo from your assignment portfolio to enter in the competition. This should be the photo that you feel is the strongest from your selection and best fulfils the brief. You must only enter a photo that has been taken specifically for the camera club assignment – please do not send in any photos that were taken before the subject matter was announced.
3. Email a low-res version (preferably no more than 2MB in size) plus your name and a contact telephone number to us at by 11:59pm on Sunday 13 December 2009 in order to enter the competition to win.

Good luck – and happy snapping.

Terms and Conditions

Entering the Competition
1. The Camera club competition (the "Competition") is open to UK residents aged 18 and over ("You") subject to paragraph 2 below.
2. Employees or agencies of Guardian News & Media Limited ("GNM", "We") its group companies or their family members, or anyone else connected with the Competition may not enter the Competition.
3. By entering the Competition you are accepting these terms and conditions.
4. To enter the Competition, you must e-mail your name, contact telephone number and chosen image to If you have any questions about how to enter or in connection with the Competition, please e-mail us at with "Camera Club Competition" in the subject line.
5. You are responsible for the cost (if any) of sending your Competition entry to us.
6. Only one entry is permitted per person.
7. The closing date and time of the Competition is 11.59pm on Sunday 13 December 2009. Entries received after that date and time will not be considered.
8. You own the copyright to your Competition entry as its author.
9. By submitting an entry to the Competition, You give GNM:
a. permission for your entry to be published on and grant GNM a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide licence to republish your Competition entry in electronic format and hard copy for purposes connected with the Competition; and
b. the right to use your name and town or city of residence for the sole purpose of identifying You as the author of your entry and/or as a winner of the Competition.
GNM will use reasonable efforts to assert the entrant's moral rights in the photograph. However GNM may cut, edit, crop or arrange the entry as it sees fit.
10. Your entry must be your own work, must not be copied, must not contain any third-party materials and/or content that you do not have permission to use and must not otherwise be obscene, defamatory or in breach of any applicable legislation or regulations. If we have reason to believe your entry is not your own work or otherwise breaches this paragraph 10, then we may not consider it. You warrant and undertake that photos submitted will not infringe intellectual property, privacy or any other rights of any third party. You must ensure that any person or persons whose image is used in an entry has given valid consent for the use of their image or has waived any rights they may have in the image submitted. Where such person is under 16, the consent of that person's parent or guardian must be obtained. Failure to adequately demonstrate such consent to the satisfaction of GNM may result in the entrant's disqualification and forfeiture of any prize.

Picking the shortlist of finalists and the winner
11. An independent judge will choose a shortlist of finalists from all Competition entries. The independent judge will then choose one winning entry from the shortlist of finalists. Full details of the judging process and the judge are available on request to
12. When choosing the shortlist of finalists the judge will be looking for the pictures that are the most striking in terms of photographic quality and best illustrate the brief laid down in the monthly assignment.
13. The judge's decision of who the winner is will be made on or before Monday 21 November 2009. The judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

The prize
14. One winner will win a Nikon D5000 camera.
15. The winner will be notified by GNM by phone or email on or before Monday 21 December 2009. If a winner does not respond to GNM within seven days of being notified by GNM, then the winner's prize will be forfeited and GNM shall be entitled to select another winner (and that winner will have to respond to the phone call or email from GNM within seven days or else they will also forfeit their prize). If a winner rejects their prize, then the winner's prize will be forfeited and GNM shall be entitled to select another winner.
16. Details of the short list of finalists, the winner, the short list of finalists entries and the winning entry will also be published in a gallery, on on Wednesday 20 December 2009 2009 or (at GNM's sole discretion) at a later date.
17. The prize will be sent to the winner by GNM by Wednesday 6 January 2010.
18. The prize cannot be exchanged or transferred by you and cannot be redeemed by you for cash or any other prize. You must pay all other costs associated with the prize and not specifically included in the prize.
19. We retain the right to substitute the prize with another prize of similar value in the event that the original prize offered is not available.

Some other rules
20. GNM reserves the right to use the names and details of the entrants to contact you if GNM wants to use your entry for any purpose after the Competition has ended.
21. Entries on behalf of another person will not be accepted and joint submissions are not allowed.
22. We take no responsibility for entries that are lost, delayed, misdirected or incomplete or cannot be delivered or entered for any technical or other reason. Proof of delivery of the entry is not proof of receipt.
23. Details of the winner can be obtained by sending a stamped addressed envelope to the following address: Camera Club Competition, Guardian Plus, Guardian News & Media Limited, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU.
24. No purchase is necessary.
25. The winner may be required for promotional activity.
26. The Promoter of the Competition is Guardian News & Media Limited whose address is Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Any complaints regarding the Competition should be sent to this address.
27. Nothing in these Terms and Conditions shall exclude the liability of GNM for death, personal injury, fraud or fraudulent misrepresentation as a result of its negligence.
28. GNM accepts no responsibility for any damage, loss, liabilities, injury or disappointment incurred or suffered by you as a result of entering the Competition or accepting any prize. GNM further disclaims liability for any injury or damage to you or any other person's computer relating to or resulting from participation in or downloading any materials in connection with the Competition.
29. GNM reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, this Competition with or without prior notice due to reasons outside its control (including, without limitation, in the case of anticipated, suspected or actual fraud). The decision of GNM in all matters under its control is final and binding.
30. GNM shall not be liable for any failure to comply with its obligations where the failure is caused by something outside its reasonable control. Such circumstances shall include, but not be limited to, weather conditions, fire, flood, hurricane, strike, industrial dispute, war, hostilities, political unrest, riots, civil commotion, inevitable accidents, supervening legislation or any other circumstances amounting to force majeure.
31. The Competition will be governed by English law. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Camera Club monthly assignment: Available light portraiture

Here are some examples of Eamonn McCabe's work over the years, shot with available light

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