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‘Samuel Beckett’ © Jane Bown

As a little boy Yoshihisa Maitani grew up close to Japan’s Inland Sea in sight of the mountains. First he tried to sketch this world, and later, at the tender age of ten, Maitani made his first box camera and built a darkroom. His world would be changed forever.

He wanted nothing else but to photograph, “borrowing” his dad’s camera and keeping a photo diary. He then acquired a Leica, and not happy with it, designed his own camera. By the time Maitani was 16 years old he had been granted 4 camera design patents.

Maitani doubted he could make a living as a photographer so after high school he studied mechanical engineering and specialized in automobile engines. However, in his 4th year, the head of the camera development at Olympus came across a camera patent filed by Maitani and personally invited him to work for Olympus.

Maitini’s lifetime of work at Olympus was based on his philosophy that

 “A camera is just a tool for taking pictures. As a designer, I want to design a camera that becomes an inseparable part of the photographer, a camera that does not get in the way.

In the 1960’s, the camera of choice for professionals was the Nikon F which weighed in at a hefty 872gr. Maitini thought the weight of this camera was unacceptable to professional photographers who might have to lug around  four camera bodies.

Far far away on the other side of the world, a young English woman worked as a photographer for The Observer newspaper. Jane Bown’s delightful work gives us a sense she was a woman of her time, with fabulous photographs of Beckett, Bacon and the Beatles. Here is photography that relies not on novelty but on the relationship between the photographer and the person being photographed.

Photography students wanting to know about natural light have no better mentor since Bown eschewed artificial light and would find light to allow her to work at f2.8, 1/160th sec.

 When the Olympus OM 1 was released in 1972 weighing in at a mere 510gr, Bown made this her camera of choice and for the next 40 years, she captured many many “subjects” including Queen Elizabeth! Her small camera was never a barrier between Bown and her subjects.

Thanks to the genius of his camera designs, Yoshihisa Maitani, gave much enjoyment to millions, and allowed many others, such as Jane Bown, to flourish and create everlasting and extraordinary photographs.

Jon Lewis

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Head On Photo Awards 2024

Entries to the Head On Photo Awards 2024 open in May/June.

Image detail: Gary Ramage