About John Hannavy

Professor John Hannavy is a photographer, writer, and historian, and has written and illustrated many books and magazine articles on travel, heritage, and photography, all illustrated with his own original images, and on both photographic history and history as revealed through photography. His work regularly appears in several leading magazines covering all aspects of heritage and travel. For more than half a century, John has travelled all over the world with his cameras taking pictures for a wide range of editorial projects and for his many books. This image of John with his camera is a promotional picture for his new book The Men Who Invented Britain, which will be published in summer 2024.


John studied photographic technology in Manchester in the early 1960s and began his professional career as a photographic laboratory technician, initially much more interested in the science which made photography work than actually taking pictures. That didn't last long, picture-making quickly took over. This trio of ageing photographers was photographed at a class reunion in 2016, 50 years after we graduated. On the left is Frank Hartles, and on the right is Mervyn Gledhill. 

John's first editorial commission was in 1969, writing and illustrating travel features for the short-lived motoring magazine High Road, produced by British Leyland. By the end of the decade, his work was being published in a wide range of magazines. It is one of the cruelties of age, that some of his early images – now taken more than half a century ago – are finding their way into his current projects as being of 'historical interest'. From the early 1970s he was a regular contributor to the monthly Photo Technique magazine, then edited by the late Jack Schofield, and editorial photography and journalism have occupied much of his time ever since.

In the 1970s, John was also becoming increasingly involved in researching and writing about the history of Wigan through surviving photographs, leading to an invitation in 1979 to join the late Brian Redhead on the BBCtv Home Ground series when it dealt with the town. John and Brian are seen here talking about the book which came out of that early project Pictures of Wigan

His growing interest in the history of photography in his native Scotland led to a commission from BBC Scotland in 1982, to write and present a 4-part series, A Moment in Time, on early Scottish photography. The series was well received and widely praised, repeated several times and eventually getting a national network screening on BBC2 in 1986. The portrait of John, right, comes from the full page feature on his work which appeared in Radio Times in March 1983 when the series was first broadcast. A 3-part series on early photography in the north-west of England, for BBC Manchester, followed in 1986. A film about Wigan Pier, with Jack Winstanley and Peter Lewis, was also made and broadcast in 1986By his own admission, his presenting style looked as though he was doing it at gunpoint, so he declined further offers to appear in front of the tv camera.

Alongside his editorial career – both in magazines and books – John was pursuing a successful academic career in both researching and teaching photography and photographic history – here he is seen with three of his successful students at their diploma show back in 1971.


In 1997, John was appointed to the Professoriat of the University of Bolton. He had been awarded his Doctorate in the art and science of early photography in 1984.


John was elected as the Centenary President of the British Institute of Professional Photography in 2000 – a fitting time to have an historian in the chair – and in 2001 he was awarded a prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship, which enabled him to fulfill a long-held ambition to retrace the steps of the earliest British photographers to travel the world with their cameras, resulting in the book Great Photographic Journeys, published in 2007 by Dewi Lewis.

Having left the university in 2005 to take on the editorship of the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, the University Gallery staged an exhibition of John's photography from his Great Photographic Journeys project, and this was later also presented at the Royal Photographic Society's gallery in Bath.


In recent years, John's work has taken on a different focus, and while still researching and writing about photographic history, he is now using photography as a window through which to explore Britain's industrial and architectural heritage. Until the end of 2019, his work regularly appeared in Scotland Magazine and in his profusely illustrated books on Britain's heritage. In 2020, in addition to the publication of Transporter Bridges – an Illustrated History, he briefly contributed words and pictures to Scottish Islands Explorer magazine, bringing his illustrated features to a new Scottish audience.


The Governor – controlling the power of steam machines was published by Pen & Sword in November 2021, and in addition to regularly contributing illustrated articles to Vintage Spirit magazine, John continues researching and photographing industrial heritage sites for his current book projects. Those are featured elsewhere in this website.


John's next book, The Gas Tramcar – an idea ahead of its time was published in November 2022 by Pen & Sword, and The Men Who Invented Britain – an illustrated introduction to Great British Engineers will be published in late 2023 by Whittles Publishing. The journey continues.

The Gas Tramcar – an idea ahead of its time is published in hardback by Pen & Sword Transport, price £35.00


The last few copies of The Victorian Photographs of Dr Thomas Keith and John Forbes White are available in hardback direct from the author at half price – £10 plus P&P. Use Contacts Page to order.

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All images and text © John Hannavy