Undoubtedly better known for being the figure captured in the photographs than the person behind them, the Princess of Wales, colloquially known as ‘Kate Middleton’, has amassed a considerable portfolio featuring photos of the British Royal family. This is not especially surprising as they are her family but her approach to the photos and their prominence in the relationship between the Waleses, William, Catherine and their children, and the media.
In the decade since they married, the Prince and Princess of Wales have established a routine with the media, particularly when it comes to photographs of their three young children. New official photos are released at Christmas and then upon each of their respective birthdays. In contrast to the exposure of the previous generation(s), notably Diana, William and Harry, this means that the children are mostly left alone as the British and global media have photos to use and stories to run. It is a compromise which has appeared to work so far. It is very rare that we see paparazzi photographs of the royal children which is unquestionably a good thing both for media standards and the childrens’ own mental health and upbringing.
The officially released photos could have been taken by a trusted professional photographer, such as Chris Jackson who is known for several royal portraits, however, Catherine has often opted to take the photos herself.
In this respect it is very much an instance of knowing and trusting the photographer. Rather than a warm yet still distant professional, it is their mother, daughter-in-law, cousin and friend. Many of the pictures have been praised for their distinction from the other, more formal royal portraits that follow the centuries-old style. For example, the photos released to mark Princess Charlotte’s 6-month milestone and then 1st birthday capture the moments at a closer distance than a professional photographer would likely reach with the same result. This important aspect is arguably better encapsulated in the photographs taken of the adults although children can be particularly sensitive to such things. The photograph of Prince, now King, Charles and Prince William released for Father’s Day 2020 was particularly candid, spurring on the question as to whether it was intended as an official portrait or just ended up being chosen to become one?
Catherine is not the first Princess of Wales to have an interest in photography, that honour goes to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, later Queen Alexandra, but she has certainly put it to good use. She is the first Princess of Wales to have a university degree, having graduated from the University of St Andrews with a 2:1 in Art History and prior to her marriage to Prince William, she worked for her mother’s company, Party Pieces, as a website designer, photographer, marketer and events organiser. As Duchess of Cambridge, she became patron of the National Portrait Gallery and spearheaded the Hold Still project, commemorating the British experience of the Covid 19 Pandemic and lockdowns through the submitted photographs.
A further use of Catherine’s photography skills came in 2020 when she captured a series of photographs of two holocaust survivors, Steven Frank and Yvonne Bernstein, and their grandchildren to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Of the project she said, “It was a true honour to have been asked to participate in this project and I hope in some way Yvonne and Steven’s memories will be kept alive as they pass the baton to the next generation.”
The position of the British monarchy in our society and the place of the individual working royals, the ones who are paid to represent the crown, is rightfully subjective. You can love them, hate them, disparage them or barely even give them a passing thought however, their work does have an impact and the photographs taken by Catherine and the photography projects initiated by her do reveal the importance she places on the medium in bringing together our society from the royal family to everyday people.