The most photographed woman on earth in both life and death

The late Queen Elizabeth was one of history’s most photographed figures. Images of Her Majesty were used to project soft power during a period when British political and military influence was waning. They also played a major role in increasing public support for monarchy.

In her 70-year reign, she witnessed technological advances and pioneering innovations in photography. In 1954, the Leica 3 was introduced. It was used by generations of photojournalists as well as Queen Elizabeth II. Polaroid and single-lens-reflex cameras (such as the NikonF) followed soon after. The move from the darkroom to digital is finally complete. Instagram and smartphones have revolutionized the way images are shared and experienced, sometimes instantly.

The Queen was featured on stamps, banknotes and coins. She also appeared in many other forms of art. Photographers such as Sir Cecil Beaton and David Bailey, as well as Annie Leibovitz, were able to transform the Queen’s image over generations.

After her death, images memorialising the legacy of Queen Elizabeth were swiftly distributed by the state and the international press from an extensive online archive. These photos documented a life that spanned ten decades. They showed her in a variety of settings, from the official residences, to distant parts of Commonwealth, to opening schools, hospitals, and peering into binoculars on racecourse balconies.

A Spanish journalist reports as thousands of mourners queue to pay their final respects to the Queen. James Clifford Kent

Dorothy Wilding’s 1952 painting of Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace. James Clifford Kent is the Author.

Iconic images

Beaton’s iconic color portrait, taken at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, was featured on many front pages. This picture combines royal fantasy with reality, showing the unofficial photographer’s technical and artistic virtuosity.

Beaton used a 1000w light bulb to capture the image. He also painted the ceiling of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel as a backdrop. The combination of textures, colours, and lighting (the white halo that surrounds Queen Elizabeth) in Beaton’s portrait creates an ethereal effect.

Dorothy Wilding’s 52 photographs of Queen Elizabeth I, taken only weeks after her accession, were also widely shared during the mourning period. Val Williams, a British curator and writer, described Wilding as able to make women look “uncompromisingly modern”. Between 1952 and 1967, one of her portraits was used to illustrate British stamps. The image of the young monarch in a tiara was displayed on Piccadilly’s electronic display shortly after the Queen died.

Piccadilly Circus pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth. James Clifford Kent

The Queen’s global outlook and impartiality towards the public remained unchanged over the years, despite her physical changes. The Aberfan Disaster in 1966, and certain memorial services are notable exceptions.

A few famous photographers have revealed the Queen’s other side. Beaton photographed the Queen in 1968 wearing a boat-cloak with a blue background. The image, which was inspired by Pietro Annigoni’s 1955 painting, depicted an “imperious and forceful monarch” who was ready to adapt to the changing times.

Bailey’s 2014 portrait in black and white of Queen Elizabeth II, aged 88, was a good example. The portrait depicted Queen Elizabeth II in a sapphire gown and jewels, with a radiant grin. It is a good example of her embracing changing photographic styles throughout her reign.

Photographing London

After the death of the Queen, I took my camera to the streets of London, where I captured not only the spirit of the country during this rare period of mourning but also the blanket projection of her image. Within minutes of her death, regal images appeared on bus stops, buildings and advertising hoardings.

Tourists with wide-eyed eyes focused their phones not on London’s iconic double-decker busses and telephone boxes but on unfamiliar scenes – black-and white portraits in picture frames in store windows with black backgrounds. The Mall was flooded with pilgrimage-like crowds. Other people in uniforms, overalls and suits hurried about the capital with bouquets of flowers, occasionally stopping to take photos.

Tourists outside Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly. James Clifford Kent

After Queen Elizabeth II’s death, crowds gather in front of Buckingham Palace. James Clifford Kent is the author who provided this.

Flowers at Buckingham Palace. James Clifford Kent

Reverential portraits published in newspapers immediately following the Queen’s death morphed into more traditional, ceremonial images:

King Charles III delivering his first address to the nation

The new monarch greeting mourners at the palace and assuming “the heavy duties of sovereignty”

The royal family meeting members of the public

Photos documented the journey of Her Majesty’s coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, from Balmoral to St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh and then, finally, lying in state in London.

As Westminster Abbey’s bells rang, long queues formed along the Thames, and on the Mall, as people waited in line to pay their respects. They held newspapers with bold front covers, clutched photographic prints, and wore flags that featured the Queen. The souvenir kiosks were awash with commemorative postcards. They also sold flags, hats, and pins emblazoned in her likeness.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *