Getting the frame right
The royal baby pictures show privilege trying, and failing, to look normal. The image says they are like us, but we know their happiness rests on a bedrock of massive wealth and tradition.india Updated: Aug 21, 2013 23:24 IST
Say cheese! The smiles of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge say it all in their first official photographs with Prince George.
Those grins say, for a start, that we are looking at an amateur photograph. No professional asks people to beam for their portraits in the toothy way the royal parents do as they pose on a lawn with their baby and a handsome dog. The photographer is the happy mum’s father, Michael Middleton. Picture editors and photographers have praised his work, as the unstoppable flood of sycophancy unleashed by the royal birth continues to sweep away sanity and proportion.
These are plainly amateur pictures: the Raphaelesque triangular composition (completed by the dog) is as innocent and old-fashioned as any moderately-skilled enthusiast with a decent camera might manage under similar circumstances. This unmistakable ordinariness gives the photo its democratic charm. Here is the royal lineage of Britain, with a claim to the throne enshrined by centuries of pomp and circumstance, pictured like a middle class English family in the garden on a summer day. The happiness of the parents is so spontaneous and normal. The sentimentality we naturally share about babies is being exploited by the British monarchy to an embarrassing degree. But the trouble with the new royalism is that it is far more dishonest than the old royalism. This picture, with its amateur touches, gives that away.
I can’t stop looking at those teeth. How they shine. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge may pose as totally average people, they may even think they are totally average people, but if they don’t care about image, why the Hollywood teeth? In this picture everything is manicured, including the vast empty lawn. It’s not an image of ordinariness but of the new elite of David Cameron’s Britain who dress, relax and smile with an unostentatious confidence that’s actually born of huge financial security.
And for all its attempts to look natural, it is posed: for the royal family is not middle class. The royal couple playing at “normal” parenthood is no more authentic than Marie Antoinette dressed as a shepherdess. The interesting question is why is such obvious fiction taken seriously by so many? Most of us take our own family photographs because that’s the only way they will get taken. The royals have access to any star photographer going, so it is mere vanity to choose granddad to do it instead. It goes with all the other vanities of this summer’s humble royal fantasy. Let’s pretend we don’t have an army of nannies standing by. Let’s pretend the royal baby has the same life chances as every other child born in Britain. Why? Surely because this image of a lovably ‘ordinary’ royal family is reassuring in insecure times.
The image says they are like us, but we know their happiness rests on a bedrock of massive wealth and tradition. They have nothing to worry about. So maybe if we identify with them, we have nothing to worry about either. It is anxiety that gives birth to conservatism. This is a portrait of our frightened age.