As we all know, the Duchess of Cambridge is a keen amateur photographer. One of her few pre-royal “jobs” involved something with photography for her parents’ company Party Pieces, although we’re obviously never going to see the receipts on that. When she became a mom, Kate began photographing her children and releasing those photos on their birthday or to mark certain occasions. It’s fine – she’s no Annie Leibovitz, but she enjoys photographing her kids and it’s cute that Kate has made it into such a thing and that she photographs her children’s birthdays. But apparently, Kate’s photography can now be designated as a “superpower.” OMG. To be fair, the woman who said this was speaking in more broad terms about the power of photography for the royals.
Kate Middleton’s family photographs have warmed the hearts of millions during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet the images of Prince George, 6, Princess Charlotte, 5, and little brother, Prince Louis, 2, spending quality family time together during isolation at Kate and Prince William’s Anmer Hall country home in Norfolk are far more than simple family snaps. Instead, they form an integral part of what royal historian Lucy Worsley calls the royal family’s “very own superpower.”
“For 200 years the British monarchy has used photography,” she adds in a new BBC documentary Lucy Worsley’s Royal Photo Album, which airs on PBS on August 16. “From creating a new sovereign to affairs of the heart, majestic moments to everyday life, when monarchy wants to send a message it uses a photograph.”
Worsley highlights this by profiling the way that key royals, including Prince Harry, Princess Diana, Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth, have used photographs to send a message to the world. It is all part of the royal family’s “soft power,” she says.
“You would think that the weapons of a king and queen were perhaps their armies or centuries of tradition but what they have is the power of the media,” Worsley tells PEOPLE. “The visual is almost more important than words because they don’t have that many opportunities to speak. So, they have become very adept at using photo opportunities: dressing, body language, who they are photographed with — all that sort of thing — to express their influence. Because they don’t have power, but they do have influence.”
“It makes them relatable and therefore builds affection,” says Worsley. “They work in exactly the same way as a soap opera does. These are people whose lives sort of mirror your own. They progress. They have births, deaths and marriages. You get to know them over time. You feel like they are your friends — sort of!” She adds, “People talk about it (the royal family) as a high brand institution, but it so isn’t. It’s really, really adapted. They use Instagram and what have you, but they reference the past. They make decisions that appear consistent with the past.”
It is for this reason that Worsley says, “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge now dominate my Instagram feed!”
There was also an aside about Prince Albert and how he loved photography and knew the photos of his family would help the monarchy. Which is true – it’s from the Victoria-and-Albert era that the “royal family as a normal, middle class family” branding really began. I would also say that more than any other 20th century royal figure, Princess Diana understood the (soft and hard) power of imagery and photography. She knew how things would photograph and she learned how to use that to her advantage, time and time again. That’s something I always thought that the Duchess of Sussex would get too, but the Sussexit happened and God knows. As for Kate and whether or not her photography qualifies as a superpower… I think she mostly photographs her kids because she doesn’t want to invite professional photographers around constantly. She wants to keep the kids’ childhoods more lowkey.
Photos courtesy of Kensington Palace.