Starting a career in photography, in particular portrait photography, is a daunting prospect. There is the constant nagging that you aren’t quite good enough – today will be the day that you are shown to be a fraud. There is also the dynamic between sitter and photographer – What do they think? What is their mood? Will they understand what you are trying to achieve? What if they don’t enjoy the process or simply dislike you? These tensions are surely recognised across all photography studios and I suspect played out in the minds of even the most successful photographers.
But just imagine being asked to photograph The Royal Family!? What then of those questions? How much greater must those anxieties be? What if you say the wrong thing, lose their mood or respect, and what if they seriously dislikes the pictures? Is that treason? A hanging at the gallows or ex-communication to a distant land?
With these questions at the front of mind I visited Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton.
The images are truly exceptional, clearly reflecting the changing trends and fashions over the period that they were taken.
I was a little surprised to see just how informal many of the images were. I was expecting stateliness all the way; this was the 40′s and 50′s after all (!), but instead we were introduced to a a regular family. A beautiful young daughter. A princess and a mother with her children.
The stateliness was there too, but even these images portrayed a closeness between the photographer and the sitter. Patience and friendship was clearly afforded to Cecil Beaton and further proof of this was found in the many letters of thanks he received directly from the family (part of the exhibition). He was somehow a part of their lives – trusted.
I took from this exhibition that there is a much greater back-story to the monarch that I grew to know in the 90′s and 00′s. The Queen is a lady who suffered through the war years, married, cared for her mother, raised her children, all whilst fulfilling her responsibilities to the nation and wider-world with a very human grace and normality of stateliness.
To Cecil, he is a beacon for all photographers that suffer the anxiety of a shoot. A light for us all.
Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration
8 February – 22 April 2012
This exhibition features portraits of Her Majesty the Queen by great society photographer Cecil Beaton and charts the Royal Family across three decades. It shows the Queen in her roles as princess, monarch and mother and celebrates the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne.