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.


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.

National Geographic

Before lockdown in March 2020, I saw this book “Women: The National Geographic Image Collection” in a Waterstones bookshop and vowed to get it another day. Two years later that day has come and I now have the book in my hands.

First impression of this book is how US centric it is. To give you an example, there is no mention of other countries having the vote for women. Which surprised me, as I was under the impression that National Geographic was about reporting from around the world. Instead it is from the perspective of America being center (sic) stage.

This book does not hide the fact that the publication is as a result of the #MeToo campaign. Not the 2006 campaign by Tarana Burke but following the events surrounding Harvey Weinstein. I can’t help feeling that no matter how you dress this up there is a strong smell of band wagon jumping with this book.

I really wanted to be inspired by the contents of this book but wasn’t. I’m wondering if this book hasn’t aged well since it was printed in 2019. Or if I had higher hopes with this archive.

Let me put it this way, if you are a landscape photographer and you follow the advice of the sign put up in a beauty spot in where to take a picture, yes it might be a perfectly acceptable image but there is definitely a deeper story to the location. There is more to the story about women from around the world than this book does justice to.

It is sad to see the changes in Afghanistan. And what is happening with Roe v. Wade in the US. If this book is a celebration of women it does feel like one step forward and three steps back.