The winner of this year’s Exceptional Achievement is the distinguished British portrait photographer, John Swannell

AP’s Exceptional Achievement in Photography Award is given in recognition of an outstanding career at the very top level in photography. Previous recipients have included Martin Parr, Tom Stoddart, Marilyn Stafford, Harry Benson and, last year, Michael Putland.

This year’s recipient is John Swannell, a very significant name in British photography, who many AP readers will be familiar with.

John began his career in photography in 1962. Leaving school at 16 he worked first as a darkroom printer in Fleet Street before getting a dream job as an assistant at Vogue’s studios in Hanover Square, working with the photographers commissioned by Vogue magazine. He loaded film, changed the backgrounds, and moved the lights for the likes of Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, Norman Parkinson and David Bailey.

Exceptional Achievement Award winner John Swannell

The Queen, by John Swannell

Distinctive style

He spent two years watching and learning from these masters before, at the age of 21, he went to work full time for Bailey, who was a great mentor. He taught John about lighting and about how to work with people. ‘He’s very good at that,’ says John.

After four years, John felt the need to strike out on his own. His connections at Vogue helped him to get started, but John soon developed his own distinctive style that has made him one of the most in-demand fashion and portrait photographers of his generation.

His list of subjects is like a who’s who of music, film and royalty. In 1994, Princess Diana personally commissioned him to photograph her with her sons, William and Harry.

Exceptional Achievement in Photography Award, John Swannell

Princess Diana with William and Harry

In addition, he photographed the Queen Mother for the commemorative stamp for her 100th birthday, and had the privilege of photographing the Queen multiple times, including for her Golden Jubilee and the official portrait for her Diamond Jubilee.

John’s work has been widely exhibited around the world. The National Portrait Gallery has over 50 of John’s photographs in its collection, and his work is also held in the collections of the V&A, the Royal Photographic Society and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Exceptional Achievement in Photography Award John Swannell

Pete Townshend by John Swannell

At the age of 77, you might think John would have hung up his cameras and put his feet up but of course photography is not a job, it’s a way of life. ‘So long as I can still pick up a camera and my eyesight is okay I’ll continue to take pictures,’ he told AP. ‘Photography is just too enjoyable.’ Indeed he has had three exhibitions in the last four years and is currently working on his next book. For more information, see John’s website

John Swannell

John Swannell with his award

Make sure you have a look at the other AP Award winners!

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See last year’s winners here: AP Awards 2022: The Best Lenses

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