When we see the images of so many iconic moments, whether of famous people, politicians, or especially the British Royal Family, we wouldn’t be suspicious, but there is a common DNA. Literally. The records of the family of photographers Anwar, Samir, and Zak Hussein yielded some of the most famous images of pop culture in recent decades, including the one that captured the complicity of the look between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry walking under an umbrella in 2020 or the Princess of Wales Kate Middleton smiles as she pauses before entering Westminster Abbey on her wedding day to Prince William. There are many famous images in a tradition that has passed from father to son, creating true contemporary works of art.
Currently, the most prominent of them is Samir Hussein, or Sam Hussein, the award-winning professional and Nikkon Ambassador, active for 12 years (hence responsible for some of the most representative images of the Royal Family since 2010), who spoke exclusively with NOSSA /UOL about your work. “In the beginning, there was a bit of pressure because my father was successful and well-known in the industry,” says Samir. “It felt like I really had to prove myself and try to live up to his standard. Now that I’m established, however, I don’t feel any pressure,” he laughed.
It’s just that before him, it was his father, Anwar Hussein, who became famous for recording historical images in the 1960s. Born in Tanzania, Africa, which was once a British colony, Anwar grew up seeing photos of Queen Elizabeth II on postage stamps without ever imagining how much he would one day be responsible for immortalizing images of the sovereign, even when he arrived in London dreaming of a career in journalism. photographic.
With experience photographing wildlife, he began covering fast-moving news such as the 1968 Vietnam War demonstrations, and filming rock concerts. His first engagements with the Royal Family included escorting the then-single (still 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, posed shots, he distanced himself and captured more authentic, unexpected, natural-looking moments. The result pleased editors, readers, and, in particular, the Royal Family itself, who liked 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, he was one of the few to accompany the Queen’s travels and she confided that 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, slowly slowing down and passing the baton to his sons, also photographers, Samir and Zak Hussein.
Today Samir is one of the most sought-after and awarded professionals in the market, covering shows, premieres, film festivals, fashion shows, and making magazine covers. With a photography legend at home, he considered avoiding the same career, studying Journalism, and only starting to photograph professionally after graduation. If there were early comparisons, today Samir’s lens signature is undeniable. Invariably, their photos of the Royal Family are chosen by them for their social networks and Christmas cards.
While Anwar, over 80 years old, travels the world with the Princess Diana Exhibition: Accredited Access, where he brings together more than 140 records of Princess Diana, it is Samir who is recording the new generations of the Royal Family. In the midst of work at Fashion Week in Paris, Samir sat down to chat about his idols (Brazilian Sebastião Salgado is among them) and share who he would like to photograph, as well as some behind-the-scenes stories.
When did your career as a photographer begin?
I started shooting at a professional level in 2005. First photographed music, which is a passion of mine, before moving on to cover more of the Royal Family.
Who, besides your father, influenced your work?
I’ve always been interested in photography, but it wasn’t until after I finished college that I decided to pursue this career. When I moved to London and started photographing live music, I quickly became hooked and have never looked back. I loved the medium, and the fact that you can have something tangible to show people your work and I saw a lot of opportunities as a career that I would love. I was influenced by the work of Terry O’Neil, Sebastião Salgado, and Steve McCurry, among others.
Your father was already an established and famous photographer when you started your career. His photos and yours are spontaneous moments turned into art. How do you develop an “eye” for the subject and capture these beautiful moments?
My father always said that “either you have an eye for photography or you don’t” and I agree with him. I think that comes naturally to some people. Of course, if you have an eye, this can be improved upon. As a photographer I am constantly developing my style, learning, and improving. You learn about what photos sell and stand the test of time, but also how to anticipate and look for fleeting moments that enhance your subject’s character.
How was his experience as a foreigner establishing himself as a photographer, did he share it with you?
He moved to London from Tanzania in the 1960s with no money and it was difficult. There was a lot of discrimination towards him and he had an incredible determination to overcome this and prove himself first in the world of showbiz in the 60s and later with royalty.
Being part of a Family of Photographers brought extra pressure to your work?
There was probably a little bit of pressure in the beginning because my father was successful and well-known in the industry. It felt like I really had to prove myself and try to live up to the standard. Now that I’m established, however, I don’t feel any pressure. Of course, the name Hussein is very positively associated with photographing royalty, so I feel a responsibility to carry on the legacy my father started, but I don’t feel any extra pressure because of that.
The Anwar Family, in a way, are royalty in the Royal Family Photographer’s Pool and therefore witness first-hand the dynamics of their work. How it works? Could you share a candid behind-the-scenes story of an image we see?
Due to the nature of some royal engagements, they often only let one or two photographers or reporters cover. As a Route or Royal pool member, you take turns covering this event and making these photos available to other pool members. When you’re part of this group, it’s often a great opportunity to gain close access and capture special moments. One of those times was when I traveled to Lesotho with William and Harry. I climbed the mountain for two hours to photograph them. As soon as I got to the top, I was told that they would quickly arrive on horseback together, something I definitely did not expect! It was a spectacular sight to see them looming over the horizon riding side by side in such beautiful scenery and I felt so fortunate to be able to capture it.
Do members of the Royal Family “look” for you in the group of photographers? Apparently, there was a time when the late Queen Elizabeth mentioned to her father that she would feel more relaxed when she identified him with photographers…
It’s true that Queen Elizabeth told her father that she liked to see him when he was on tour, as it made her more relaxed and I hope other royals feel the same.
The Royal Family tend to stick to their commitments and allows us to photograph them in a natural way as the event unfolds. They don’t really pose for us like European royalty. That said, they often look up to us as they know us from covering them all over the world. Camilla, the Queen Consort, for example, will always look up and smile.
In the UK, the paparazzi industry sometimes associates a bad reputation with professional photographers and causes justified fear in artists and celebrities even when they are on the red carpet, where it is actually captured. For a professional photographer, what are the challenges to setting yourself apart and earning your subject’s trust?
Photographing important people like royalty, celebrities, and artists is all about access and that comes with confidence. I want to work with the subject and capture it as best I can, and you build a reputation for doing that by acting professionally and producing great photos. I hope that when people look at my photograph it will be clear. I photograph these subjects because I am invited and accredited to photograph them through their management, public relations, and press teams, and it is these relationships that I work hard to cultivate. It’s very different from how the paparazzi operate.
What do you most like to photograph?
To be honest, I love the variety of being able to do an actual tour one week, then another week shooting something like a music festival or a portrait. They are all different challenges, but it allows me to be creative in different ways and it allows me to remain passionate about my photography.
You studied Journalism: did you think about using only words instead of images? How was this – if at all – so influential in your work?
Before entering university I was very interested in journalism and photography, but I decided to study journalism. Over time I started to like photography more and it became clear to me that this was what I wanted to do. But studying journalism gave me a good foundation and really helped me understand how the media works and how to tell stories. The two go hand in hand in many ways.
When you have family gatherings, do you talk about each other’s work and share experiences?
Even if we try not to, inevitably the subject will turn to photography at some point. We definitely talk about past experiences and stories and it’s something we all have in common.
Who or what would you like to have photographed (and couldn’t) and who and what/where do you still dream of photographing?
I shoot a lot of music that I’m passionate about, so there are some artists that I would love to have filmed. Namely Queen, Bob Marley, and Jimmy Hendrix. In those times, I’ve photographed most of the high-profile names I wanted to, but I’d love to focus more on doing individual shots.
At some point, I would also like to photograph fascinating cultures and people around the world such as indigenous tribes as it is such a contrast to celebrities.
Studio or non-posed photos? Which do you prefer and why?
I prefer unposed ones, as I like to photograph people in a natural environment. For me, it’s more true to life and easier to capture some humanity in the subject, which is what I love to do most.
You shared your 10 favorite photos from 2022 on Instagram… What did you consider when choosing?
It’s always hard to pick your own best shots as you inevitably have strong feelings for some because of the subject, the event, or what you went through to get the shot. It really helps to get the opinions of other people you trust. However, when I chose my favorites for 2022, I tried to maintain photographic merit and photos that made me feel something when I looked at that photo. I hope that all photos show the human side of the subjects and convey emotion.