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.