John Swannell

I remember getting in the late 90s or early 2000s Twenty Years On by John Swannell for inspiration. How fast time has flown when I discovered that Forty Years On had been published.

As the name suggests, the books are a collection of Swannell’s work after being in the business for Twenty years and Forty years.

Looking at the two books together there is more of a timeless feel to Twenty than Forty. Twenty is all in black and white while Forty has a lot of colour which does date some of the pictures from a certain era of photographic technology.

Forty Years On also contains tear sheets of his published work. In my opinion, adding these to his collection of works might not represent his creativity fully. Client work is to a brief. You wouldn’t be doing your job if you weren’t providing what they wanted but what you wanted. But having said that, there is no harm in being proud of your best client work.

What I find interesting are the choice of chapters between the two books. The chapters in Twenty Years On were Fashion, Nudes, Landscape and Portraits. And in Forty Years On are Early Beauty, Fashion, Early Black & White and The Royals. Why the difference in editorial choice between the two books? What happened to his landscape work?

The portfolio of work by a photographer says a lot about them. His wife appears in both books in which she models / sits for him. She even writes a forward in Forty Years On and Twenty is dedicated to her and their children. Twenty is also dedicated to David Bailey who was his mentor. And you definitely can see Bailey’s influence in his work.

The final image in Forty Years On is a picture of the Royal family taken in 1999 for the Royal Mail. It is a picture of HM The Queen with HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, HRH The Prince of Wales (now HM The King) and Prince William. It was used to mark The Queen Mother’s 100th birthday with a series of stamps. However, in 2016 to mark HM The Queen’s 90th birthday the Royal Mail chose to use a different photographer. Ranald Mackechnie took that photograph and you can read how he did it here.

Looking at the family photo taken by Swannell and the one taken by Mackechnie shows how hard being at the top of the game is. Being the best of the best takes a lot of work and dedication.

I’m still inspired by the images in Twenty Years On but Forty Years On feels more like an obituary. It is very rare for any photograph to age well. For Swannell to get the few that do is an amazing feat.

Ten years on

10 years ago today I started on this journey and in that time a lot has changed.

I hope that my technical skills would have improved during this time. But the funny thing about knowledge is that the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know.

Looking back, I have made some really embarrassing mistakes that hopefully I won’t repeat. But making mistakes is part of the learning process. Those mistakes play a part in formulating what my thinking is today. It would be strange if my opinion hasn’t changed over the years.

I was recently asked by a friend the photographers I admire and have influenced my work. So, have any of the various photographers and artists I have discovered while working on this project been key to me?

There really isn’t one who stands out to me as head and shoulders above the others. I might like a photograph or a piece of artwork. What excites me is discovering new work. Seeing the world from a perspective that I would not have thought of is what really inspires me.

Creativity is hard. Even the naturally talented have to hone their skills. They might be better at figuring out how to do it. The phrase “practice makes perfect” still holds true for them. It takes hard work as there are no short cuts.

For me, one of the positives to come out of the pandemic was that some of the commercial photographers who were too busy pre-pandemic to share their experiences found they had the time to spread their knowledge. Many have gone back to being busy again. However there are a few who have carried on their educational work.

If you were to ask me in 2013 what 2023 would look like, I don’t think I would be close to the mark with any predictions. The only thing I know to be true about the future is that I’m going to keep trying to do my best work.


I recently discovered the I AM project by Angelika Buettner.

The book was published in 2019 and is made up with portraits of women over the age of 40. It took seven years to get to stage where there are over 100 sitters for the collection in the book. Taking seven years to create this publication isn’t all that surprising as it is obvious a lot of work has been put into it.

Buettner is a German photographer who is now based in Paris. In the words of the photographer her initial concept was to “capture these women with only natural or no makeup”. She doesn’t say at what point she decided that the subjects would be nude. As this would “challenge the women but also to challenge myself.”

It is very rare to see the female nude from the eyes of a woman photographer. She does include a portrait of herself taken by her husband.

Portrait photography is not an easy subject. It looks easy. Stick someone in front of the camera and you have a picture. Digging deeper into the subject is what makes it difficult. How much do you flatter the sitter but still retain truth in the image? Do you shine a mirror on what they dislike about themselves? Too much reflection on the bad and the delicate bond between the photographer and the sitter can be damaged.

I don’t want to take away anything from the photographer or the sitters, but when I look at the pictures there is a lack of anger or urgency in the problems faced by the group it is representing. Turning the pages it isn’t obvious what the complaint is and how it can be solved.

It was recently reported that Canadian journalist Lisa LaFlamme lost her job after letting her hair go grey.

The unfairness can be summed up in this discussion by these CNN journalists.

If this is the type of problem the I AM project is supposed to highlight it feels like the aim is off target. I do hope I AM-The Movement proves me wrong and is a success.