Read the interview with Jane Barlow: from capturing Queen Elizabeth II's final portrait to winning the IMAGO Photograph of the Year 2023, she discusses the dynamic world of press photography, the importance of winning awards, and the challenges in the field that young photographers should know.
When Jane framed her shot, it was a simple yet elegant portrait. Little did she know that this simple moment would soon transform into a historical one. Only two days later, the country came to a standstill as news broke of the Queen’s passing, and Jane’s photograph became etched in history as the last official portrait of the monarch.
This photo brought further recognition and some awards for Jane, including IMAGO Photograph of the Year 2023 at the UK Picture Editors Guild Award in a public vote with almost 10,000 participants. ‘Being shortlisted for awards and competitions can provide a good platform to share and showcase your work,’ she reflects on her award-winning.
Jane’s journey to this moment was not without its ebbs and flows. Although her path into photography was shaped by her love for art and news, she faced multiple challenges. ‘Even though I often have a schedule and diary of events to cover, sometimes I have to drop everything and react to breaking news,’ she shares, revealing the dynamic nature of her work. A fast-paced environment, working in a male-dominated industry, dealing with the pressures of capturing crucial moments, and staying ahead with technological advancements in photography are all part of her journey.
But for Jane, the unpredictable work is not a hurdle but a source of joy. ‘There is no typical day, and no two days are the same, which is what I love,’ she shares with a spark of enthusiasm. Her stand for diversity and representation in photography also shines through as she advocates for an industry that truly mirrors the varied facets of society. ‘To remain relevant and authentic, the photography industry must seek to become more diverse to fairly reflect the communities and events it reports on, and women have so much to offer in terms of presenting a different perspective.’
Read more about Jane Barlow in this interview, where the winner of the IMAGO Photograph of the Year 2023 delves into her career, the dynamic world of press photography, the importance of award-winning, and the challenges of balancing diversity in the field.
‘There is no typical day, and no two days are the same, which is what I love.’ – Jane Barlow.
Congratulations on your award-winning ‘IMAGO Photograph of the Year 2023 at the UK Picture Editors Guild Awards.’ Can you tell us about the work that led to this prize?
My award-winning picture was voted for by the public and is of the late Queen Elizabeth II ahead of her meeting with the then newly appointed prime minister, Liz Truss, at Balmoral in Scotland. I remember thinking it was a nice portrait at the time, but the image then took on a whole other significance as it became the last official photograph of The Queen, when she died two days later.
How did you get your start in the industry? What drew you to a career in press photography?
I’ve always loved art and photography, and being interested in news, current affairs and sports naturally led me into press photography and studying photojournalism at college.
What does a typical day look like for you as a press photographer?
There is no typical day, and no two days are the same, which is what I love. Even though I often have a schedule and diary of events to cover, sometimes I have to drop everything and react to breaking news.
How do you stay prepared for unpredictable situations when on assignment?
As a photographer for a national agency, I always have my cameras and laptop with me. There’s a saying in press photography: ‘The best camera is the one you have with you’ and, like most people, I always have my phone with me and so I always have a camera on my person at all times. In recent years, some of the most immediate and striking pictures from breaking news events have been captured on smartphones.
Are there any particular techniques you rely on for capturing fast-paced events?
Covering news events, I generally use two DSLR cameras: one with a wide-angle lens (24-70mm) and one with a long lens (70-200mm). The ability to send images straight from the camera to the picture desk, usually via FTP, means images can be transmitted to clients, newspapers, and media outlets within seconds.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in the field?
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing press photographers and photojournalism in general is the emergence of AI. It’s important that pictures accurately and honestly record the news and events and that the integrity of the original recorded image is maintained.
‘The issues that female photographers face are complex but include gender prejudice, hiring practices, a possible confidence gap between men and women, strains on personal lives and a general decline in the media industry.’ – Jane Barlow.
You once highlighted the scarcity of women in press and sports photography within Scotland. Could you elaborate on the challenges this presents and how it might affect the industry’s dynamics?
Things are getting better, but the industry is still very male-dominated. The reasons for the gender disparity are tricky to untangle and perhaps a symptom of sexism in wider society. People experience life differently and have different perspectives to offer, yet historically, the view of what constitutes good photography has largely been defined by the work of men. To remain relevant and authentic, the photography industry must seek to become more diverse to fairly reflect the communities and events it reports on, and women have so much to offer in terms of presenting a different perspective.
The issues that female photographers face are complex but include gender prejudice, hiring practices, a possible confidence gap between men and women, strains on personal lives and a general decline in the media industry.
How has receiving an award influenced your approach to photography, and what changes have you noticed in the reception of your work since winning?
Awards don’t really influence my work, but it’s nice to get the recognition – I always try and produce the best images I can when on assignment and if a particular picture gets widely published and is well received and I like it, then I might consider submitting it in a professional competition. Being shortlisted for awards and competitions can provide a good platform to share and showcase your work.
How do you hope your recognition will influence aspiring press photographers? And what advice would you give to young photographers who look up to award-winning professionals like yourself?
My advice to an aspiring news photographer would be that, first and foremost, you need to be competent in DSLR photography quick at editing, writing captions and transmitting images. You also have to have an interest in news, current affairs and the ability to recognise a good story or an interesting event that can be illustrated through photography.
The ability to think on your feet and work in challenging situations; you’re not always going to have perfect light or be in control of the scene in front of you. It helps if you have additional skills, such as being licensed for drone work and being able to shoot video. Sadly, there are few staff photography jobs these days, most people who work in the industry are freelance, so a lot of determination and tenacity are required too.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’ve always got lots of ideas for features and projects, but trying to find the time to work on them around my other commitments covering news and sport is difficult, but watch this space.