This week, I chronicled two Royal photographers, Cecil Beaton and the 1st Earl of Snowdon.
King Charles III and his family have opted for another stellar snapper, Hugo Burnand, a Tatler veteran.
Burnand has not updated his Twitter feed since 2015, but these are some of the photos he took for a Tatler feature on London’s top retailers that year:
Hugo Burnand is the only Royal photographer to have been born outside of the UK.
He was born in Cannes, the delightful city on the Cote d’Azur which is home to the film festival. His mother, Susan Gordon, died tragically in a car accident the year after he was born. Fortunately, his stepmother Ursy Burnand raised him well and the two remain close. On his website, Burnand refers to her as his mother and she still helps him out in the studio. Being a photographer herself and nurturing the same talent in him from boyhood, her help must be invaluable.
Burnand attended Cheam School, where he won a photography contest. He completed his formal education at Harrow School, where he took portraits of his fellow students. He decided to pursue photography professionally at the age of 27.
In 1993, at the age of 30, Burnand began a long-standing relationship with Condé Nast, particularly Tatler, where regular readers of that magazine will have seen his work in the Bystander pages of many social events.
That year, he also married Louisa Hallifax, the daughter of the late Admiral Sir David John Hallifax, who served as Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle from 1988 to 1992, the year of his death. The Burnands have four children and two dogs.
Stylistically, Burnand’s photography is the polar opposite of Dafydd Jones‘s work which graced the pages of Tatler in the 1980s. Socialites can show Burnand’s photos of themselves to their grandmothers without having to answer questions, e.g. ‘But, darling, how could you let your date push you into the swimming pool?’
Burnand has had a long-running working relationship with the King and Queen since his years as the Prince of Wales. He took the official portraits of Charles and Camilla at their wedding in April 2005. Camilla was the one who enlisted Burnand. He then began photographing Princes William and Harry. In 2011, he was the official photographer at Prince William’s wedding, more about which here. He spent three weeks preparing for the shoot at Buckingham Palace, working closely with Catherine Middleton. It had to be timed for the fly-past at 1:30 that day. Ursy helped things move smoothly on the day by giving jelly beans to the page boys and girls. Burnand also took Charles’s official 60th birthday portrait in 2008.
In an interview shortly before Coronation Day, Burnand, 59,told The Telegraph that the 60th birthday portrait is among his favourites (emphases mine):
In a regal yet relaxed pose, wearing the ceremonial uniform of the Welsh Guards, the picture, taken three years after he married the future Queen, shows a man finally at ease with himself.
Revealing how it was taken at the end of another shoot, he explains: “It was very much a sort of for-the-hell-of-it picture. We were both there, had a camera and he was dressed in his Welsh Guards uniform. We discussed things together, what we may or may not do. And somewhere in the referencing, there was a Tissot painting, of Frederick Gustavus Burnaby.”
A Victorian cavalry officer, balloonist, adventurer, author and allegedly the strongest man in the British Army, Burnaby was painted in self-consciously languid style by the French artist in 1870 and the portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
It is not the first time Burnand had subconsciously recreated a historic piece. It was only when he was leaving the Waleses’ wedding – during which he was given just 26 minutes to capture the newlyweds – that he realised he had inadvertently based his final shot on a painting of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert surrounded by their five oldest children, painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1846 …
Anticipating his photographs on Coronation Day, he said he was well organised:
Musing whether the best photographs come at the end of shoots, because the subjects are more relaxed, he adds: “Maybe. With those two photographs, I sort of always knew we were going to take them and I know exactly what we’re doing this time.
“Funnily enough, this time some of those pictures are scheduled to be taken earlier on.” Having shepherded plenty of children through fashion shoots over the years, he is not ruling out the use of sweets again when persuading the likes of Prince George, nine, Princess Charlotte, eight, and Prince Louis, five, to pose.
“I wish I could bring the dogs,” he says. “But it might get too chaotic.”
Burnand is again on limited time to take the photographs, but as with the weddings, he has been preparing by carrying out “stop watch” dress rehearsals with “whomever I can find running round the corridors”. He is also bringing replacements for every single item of equipment in case of malfunctions.
He is no Cecil Beaton:
Burnand’s emphasis on lighting (“it’s so important I can’t think of a big enough word”) suggests he will not be using a backdrop as Beaton did – a necessity at a time when the technology was not advanced enough to light the subject of the photograph simultaneously with the surroundings.
Beaton added an air of theatricality and glamour by photographing the young Queen Elizabeth against a painted backdrop of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey.
Holding the Orb and Sceptre, and wearing the Imperial State Crown, Coronation Robes, and the Coronation Gown designed by Norman Hartnell, the use of the profile pose provided a sense of tradition and continuity.
No pressure then? Burnand chuckles. “Yes, Beaton has set down a sort of benchmark but I’m not copying him. I’m taking these as my own man.”
Burnand says that he wants his portraits to evoke an emotional reaction:
“Portraits are my passion,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who or what the portrait is of – be it the King, your father, a celebrity – I want you to have an emotional reaction to it, which arrests you for a little bit longer before you turn the page …”
Little wonder, then, that the King chose Burnand to capture a Coronation that isn’t just about pomp and pageantry but telling the next chapter in a deeply personal family story.
These are Burnand’s Coronation Day portraits:
I really like the next two. The first one, in particular, shows regal splendour:
Burnand told The Independent‘s Charlotte Cripps what Coronation Day was like. He is in the centre in the photo below, with his daughter Una on the left. The other people also work for him. Brompton bicycles were their means of transport:
On 6 May, as the nation was waking up, Burnand set off at 7am from his London mews house near Notting Hill Gate. With him were a team of six assistants, including his daughter Una, 25. They cycled to Buckingham Palace on bespoke, regal-coloured purple and ivory Brompton bikes in their formal attire – even Una in her pink silk dress.
“It took about 25 minutes – we didn’t want to break out in a sweat,” Burnand tells me from his kitchen, when we talk just days after the portraits have been released to the public. They travelled light; all cameras and other equipment were already in situ at the Palace. “It feels really weird setting off [for the day] without a camera for the biggest job of your life,” he laughs.
By taking official coronation portraits of the monarch, Burnand is joining a tradition that is over a century old – but he is familiar with royal subjects. The former Tatler photographer is the only photographer with a royal warrant, given By Royal Appointment by the Prince of Wales, and photographed William and Kate’s wedding in 2011 …
It may have been a day full of pomp and formality, freighted with historic importance, but Burnand says there was “a lovely buzz” in Buckingham Palace’s throne room. “There was definitely a happy feeling. It was cosy with family, children and friends milling about,” he tells me. Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis were all part of the photoshoot, which made it “beautiful” and “uplifting”. “It was like the last bit of the race [for the royal family] – there was an energy there which I know I got in the pictures,” he says.
However, there was a touch of Cecil Beaton after all:
For his solo portrait of Charles, Burnand had consciously mirrored society photographer Cecil Beaton’s coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The painterly portrait of Charles shows him in his full regalia, wearing the imperial state crown, his back slightly to one side of the official state chair in which he sits. His position is similar to that of his mother when she posed for Beaton, when she, like her son now, held the orb and sceptre with cross.
There’s no escaping Beaton, the daddy of them all.
You can see a more relaxed pre-Coronation portrait of the King and Queen here. In 2017, Burnand appeared in Tatler at his exhibition that year and at another in 2000. The magazine also featured his favourite portraits.
You, too, can have your portrait or wedding photos taken by Hugo Burnand. He is not just for Royals. He also seems like a very pleasant man.
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