The tradition passed from father to son and the images of the Royal Family, thanks to the artistic and sensitive vision of the Hussein Family, are contemporary works of art. That’s right, the chance that some of the most beautiful – even iconic – photos of the Windsors will have Hussein’s signature. Currently, the most prominent of these is Samir Hussein, or Sam Hussein, the award-winning professional and Nikkon Ambassador, who has been active for 12 years (hence responsible for some of the most representative images of the Royal Family since 2010).
Before him, his father, Anwar Hussein captured historical images of the Family and Princess Diana, who he began to photograph in the 1980s.
Quite rightly, Hussein’s photos were personally selected by the Family for Christmas cards and other official records. Awarded, father and sons are today a reference in Art Photography and best-selling authors with their work.
Anwar Hussein, who was born in now independent Tanzania, Africa, grew up seeing pictures of Queen Elizabeth II on postage stamps. At the time, she would never have imagined that her photos would be used for official images of the sovereign. After all, I never dreamed that I would be what they call a “royal photographer”, those professionals accredited to accompany the Windsors on trips or important events. Anwar left his home country for the UK in his early 20s, dreaming of a career as a photojournalist. “I just wanted to work, so I built my photography experience covering counterculture and news,” he said in an interview with The Telegraph in 2016.
His arrival in England was troubled, as in 1962 he saw signs welcoming dogs and cats in commercial establishments, but prohibiting “colored” people from entering. Undaunted, and with experience photographing wildlife, he began covering fast-moving news such as the 1968 Vietnam War demonstrations, as well as recording rock and roll concerts. Of course, in Queenland he ended up being drawn to covering royal events, starting with following the then-single Prince Charles around the world. In the blink of an eye, he was in front of the Queen as well.
Elizabeth II soon noticed the professional with long hair and casual clothes, quite different from the official professionals who were always in a suit and tie. Anwar’s informality was reflected in his lens: instead of rigid and posed photos, he distanced himself and recorded more authentic, unexpected moments, to, as he later said, “show them with a natural appearance”.
The result pleased editors, readers and, in particular, the Royal Family, which approved the way it came to be seen. This gave Anwar the privilege of being invited to more intimate tours and events with them, which helped create a more personal relationship with the Windsors. For example, on the Silver Jubilee in 1977, it was on every Queen’s trip. As she told him, when she looked at the wall of photographers and identified him among them, she felt more relaxed.
In 2016, Anwar officially became the oldest working royal photographer. “A lot has changed in these 40 years. I am proud to have recorded history, although, like Her Majesty, I had to slow down a bit,” he commented at the time.
He slowed down, but created a brand inherited by his sons, who are also photographers and who also came to prominence: Samir and Zak Hussein.
Samir, who created one of the most iconic images of the 21st century – the photo of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in the rain – is today the most sought after and awarded professional in the field. Like his father and brother, he also works covering concerts, premieres and film festivals, so his photos include film and music stars, but it is the Windsors that we most associate with his focus.
Samir always mentions that having grown up among “great photos of legends like The Beatles, The Stones and Steve McQueen” was decisive for him to venture into his father’s field after finishing his Journalism course. “I was really lucky because my dad was actually a photographer and he used to photograph showbiz during the 60s and 70s, all these amazing characters and famous faces. Photographed royalty during the Diana years. So I was lucky to have grown up surrounded by great photography. And photography has always been an interest of mine. I studied journalism and it wasn’t until after I finished college that I got closer to the photography side of things. So I started working in some photo agencies as a photo editor, and going out and shooting whenever I had the opportunity”, explained Samir.
The pressure of Anwar’s last name and fame didn’t daunt Samir, who says his father never forced him into anything, but was generous with encouragement and advice. “The fact that he is a successful photographer who has achieved so much is more of an inspiration than a pressure,” said Samir.
If there were comparisons in the beginning, today the DNA of the Hussein lens is undeniable and independent. Just like them in the second generation, photographers are moving on to the fourth generation of the Royal Family, starting with the Queen, moving on to Charles and Diana, now capturing William and Harry (with their wives) and now, Princes Louis, George and the Princess Charlotte.
With his historic images, it is no surprise that Anwar, aged over 80, has become the author of best sellers on Royalty and that today he travels the world with exhibitions. His Princess Diana Exhibition: Accredited Access, featuring more than 140 records of the princess, is still bringing in raves and tickets. After all, many of Diana’s most famous images were made by him.
“I saw all sides of Diana. She was a genuine, good human being,” he recalled in an interview with People. “You could see her go from ‘Shy Di’, looking down, to becoming stronger – which she had to do. She wanted to prove that she was brave enough to do what she wanted,” he explained. Diana later joked to Anwar that the book about Charles signed by the photographer taught her more about her husband than Charles himself. Something that pictures can really do.
About the Princess’s charisma in front of photographers, which only reached the feet of Marilyn Monroe, Anwar has only praise. “She had an astute way of showing her mood – whether she was happy or unhappy”, he commented, noting that it was her empathy with people that stood out the most. “She also knew which photos would go around the world,” he told People.
Today, Samir is the main star among the Hussein, accumulating awards over the years and being chosen by the family, as in 2022, for the Christmas card photos of Charles as King.
“Whatever type of filming I’m doing, I’m going to go with the same goal. Be it a royal engagement, red carpet event, music concert, one-on-one portrait session, whatever. And I think my goal is really to try and capture some of the humanity, capture something… show some of the personality and show that famous face more as a human. My goal is always to try to achieve this with the best looking photo possible. It’s not always possible, but that’s how I get into every job I do. And it can often happen at unexpected moments, like shooting stars on the red carpet. Sometimes those moments happen after they’ve posed for pictures and then suddenly they relax and you can capture maybe a little bit more candid moment.”
About your most famous photo, which went viral and became iconic? “That was a really nice image to get. It’s one of the last jobs they did before stepping down as Royals, so to get a really strong image like that, which was so well received by the public and so well used, was really special.”