Fake Royal Magic at Kensington Palace Photography Exhibition

Invented traditions

Coinciding with the rise of photography and print media in the late 19th century, a bourgeois monarchy was invented, one family placed above the rest that would be seen in both manufactured spectacles for the camera and in personal moments also staged. It is striking, for example, that Victoria made and published, a few months after her husband’s death, a formal and at the same time intimate portrait of herself and her children posing before his bust in mournful attitudes.

When I was a child, I visited an old lady who had once worked at my school. Her earliest memory, she told me, was of watching Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession from her pram. Of course she remembered it, even as a child: here is a photograph by Francis Frith showing the sumptuous royal carriage in that procession in 1897, and it is not difficult to understand that a working-class child of that era would never have seen anything before. to rival such golden splendor.

That was the intention. Historian David Cannadine has shown how Victoria’s reign introduced an anthology of invented traditions shamelessly presented as being of ancient lineage. Older shows were not aimed at ordinary people – rather they aimed to strengthen the bonds between the royal family, the aristocracy and the Church. The new ones celebrated royalty and empire in a frenzy of made-up ceremonies, costumes, processions and moving music on occasions that had previously been either anonymous or private.

Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth took part in this mock myth on her coronation show, saying: “The ceremonies you saw today are ancient and some of their origins are veiled in the mists of the past.” The media still faithfully echo this lie today.

The missing pictures

Images from the royal spectacle portray a fantasy of deferential unity, brought to life in front of media lenses around the world in carefully choreographed and color-coordinated displays. Family pictures – if we forget or make fun of who the subjects are – are mostly just plain boring. Although Mario Testino takes your family photos, it gives them a congratulation that enhances the super ordinary effect, as modern cameras and phones increasingly automate the technical brilliance of professional photography, this distinction is getting bigger. fades.

More interesting photographs could have been included. We see few members of the royal family doing propaganda for the military and the Church, and none of their ties to politics. It is fascinating that the Royals’ response to danger was partly to turn to photography. At the time of the crisis of the abdication of Edward VIII – not to mention his fascist sympathies, which are moreover not evoked -, the fashion photographer Dorothy Wilding was asked to present a more informal and sympathetic vision of the monarchy.

Tracey L. Sweeney