Lynn Johnson wins Third Annual National Geographic Photographer’s Photographer Award

On Friday, 11 January, Lynn Johnson won the 3rd Annual National Geographic Photographer’s Photographer Award.  The award was given out by George Steinmetz at the conclusion of the Geographic’s annual photography seminar:

Perhaps the greatest pleasure I get from being head of the Photographer’s Advisory Board is to give out the annual National Geographic Photographer’s Photographer Award. To me, there is no greater honor than to be recognized by ones peers, especially with a crowd as accomplished as this.  The award is for the photographer who has most inspired us by expanding the possibilities of our medium. This definition is purposely vague, as what inspires is almost always something unexpected.

In this room today, I think it’s fair to say, is the largest assembly of great photographic talent in the world.  Take a look around… it’s pretty impressive.  So I know what you’re thinking… is it me?

 This year’s winner is the one they give the most difficult jobs to… the Missions Impossible. I’m not talking about war zones or active volcanoes, but the topics that are both important but so seemingly impossible to photograph that most of us wouldn’t know where to begin.  And like a good spy, our winner does not look anything like Tom Cruise or Matt Damon.  And the assignments are not to gain state secrets, but to reveal matters of heart, spirit, and soul.  Our winner is one of those people who is assiduously understated, does meticulous research, and enters the subject’s world with extraordinary depth of compassion. The pictures this photographer takes are the slippery pictures of ephemeral moments and framed in a way that, to be perfectly honest, would even elude almost everyone in this room. 

 I have often wondered how our winner makes these improbable and wonderful images.  I was in Russia earlier this week and spoke with an interpreter who had worked with National Geographic photographers for over twenty years. She said that most of the other NG photographers she had worked with would walk into a room and after a short look around, determine that there were no pictures there and leave.  But not our winner… who would realize that an empty room was just a bare stage, and would wait patiently for a magical moment.

 This photographer is a practitioner of a technique sometimes known as 30-cups-of-coffee-for-a-frame.   For this photographer, the people and their relationships are more important than the pictures, and that is really saying something about those relationships, as the pictures are really extraordinary.  It is this photographer’s humility and delicate respect for the subjects that makes these pictures so outstanding.  For this photographer, still waters run deep.

 And in a time when everything is digital and instantaneous, our winner is doing the exact opposite, having moved from Instagram to Permagram, and now shoots with film in square format.

 In a world were many specialize, our winner does not. This photographer has photographed celebrities and famous people, but is best known for stories revealing the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  This is a very private person who found that the camera was both a shield to hide behind, and a way to explore unfamiliar worlds to engage in. Our winner is the kind of photographer who stays in touch with subject long after the shoot is over, and then finds creative ways to raise money to help solve a subject’s problems.  This photographer is impetuously fast behind the wheel of a car, but also the kind of person who comes to a full stop for what one editor here described as “birds with broken wings”. Our winner is a shy person, and isn’t known to mingle with the crowd.  In fact I had to organize a small conspiracy to get our winner to come to the seminar and be here this afternoon. 

 So without any further hints and innuendo, I would like to present the Third Annual National Geographic Photographer’s Photographer Award to our very own secret agent of the heart, spirit, and soul, someone who proves that the best man for the job is often a woman, Lynn Johnson!


Lynn Johnson moments after her award was announced in Grosvenor Auditorium.  photo courtesy Vincent Musi

Lynn Johnson moments after her award was announced in Grosvenor Auditorium. photo courtesy Vincent Musi