Image edited: Kate and her predecessors: Other royals also manipulated their photos

With the at first glance idyllic family portrait of Princess Kate and her three children, taken by Prince William on the occasion of British Mother's Day, the Kensington Palace press office obviously wanted to silence the rumors about Kate's health that had been simmering for weeks.

Image edited: Kate and her predecessors: Other royals also manipulated their photos

With the at first glance idyllic family portrait of Princess Kate and her three children, taken by Prince William on the occasion of British Mother's Day, the Kensington Palace press office obviously wanted to silence the rumors about Kate's health that had been simmering for weeks. But as is well known, the campaign backfired.

That same evening, the image was removed from sale by some of the world's leading photo agencies because they came to the conclusion that it had been "manipulated" - i.e. retouched too much according to their standards. Eagle-eyed royal fans had spotted various visual inconsistencies in the photo, in the clothing and posture of George, Charlotte and Louis and also in Kate herself, in her hands, hair and the zipper of her jacket. A British newspaper even speculated that Kate's face had been swapped in the photo. And then the sapphire engagement ring was missing from the princess's hand, which topped it all off.

Finally, avid amateur photographer Kate was forced to post an apology via the social media account on "X" (formerly Twitter) on Monday, saying her poor digital image editing was to blame for the whole fuss. But public opinion hasn't really calmed down after that; there is now even talk of a massive loss of trust: the royal family has made itself untrustworthy to its subjects.

Now, in the case of Kate's "Photogate", it is the first time that photo agencies have recalled an official photo released by the palace, but the manipulation of royal images in itself is nothing new at all.

The Wales family's Christmas card last December raised a number of mysteries, including Prince Louis' alleged missing finger, and a photo of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex under a tree in the garden of their home in Montecito was obviously post-edited (which the photographer later admitted ). And even a photo of the late Queen with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered in the salon in Balmoral from the summer of 2022 was suspected that a few children's faces could have been swapped because everyone beamed so happily and perfectly into the camera at the same time.

But what may come as a surprise: Extensive image editing of royal photographs is not just a 21st century phenomenon. This existed much earlier, practically since the invention of photography. As early as the 19th century, when the majority of European states were still ruled by crowned heads, the fact that their leading members, especially the ruling prince, were visible to their people contributed significantly to the success of these monarchies. And not just during the rare live appearances in the royal city or when traveling through their country, but also elsewhere if possible.

The use of the then new medium of photography played an important role in making the royals appear tangible and approachable and thus creating a bond between the prince and the people. Royal images in newspapers and framed portraits of the monarch in imperial offices were a key means by which royal families became powerful and unifying symbols for their nations.

Even though these photographs, which were usually taken by the most renowned photographers and then distributed throughout the country in the press and on postcards as well as on royal porcelain souvenirs, were still very poor in quality, they nevertheless gave the monarchs an important tool for the first time the hand to create a strong, almost personal feeling emotional bond between the general public and their royal family. Previously, the majority of the subjects who lived beyond the capitals, did not travel, and therefore could not see their ruler in person, only knew him from images on coins.

And these rulers were probably personally aware of the power of the image early on. Since the beginning of the regular use of early photographs in a royal context, from the middle of the 19th century, there were the first attempts to subsequently optimize images that had already been taken - taking into account the desirable perception that the people wanted to achieve. Namely, that the ruler figure in the depiction should appear positive and powerful, i.e. young, strong and healthy. At that time, the aim was not to have the person photographed smiling; grimacing in a friendly manner was considered dubious.

Therefore, it was already common practice at that time not to publish pictures of high people in their original state, but to retouch them. This very early form of "Photoshopping" was done manually, directly on each individual glass plate coated with a light-sensitive emulsion by "blotting out" defects or covering unwanted image elements with colored ink.

From the beginning of the 20th century, when celluloid negatives replaced glass plates as a recording medium, professionals worked in more detail with retouching knives, brushes and gouache paints and often with various covering varnishes.

A very special picture in this context dates from 1854 and is so remarkable because it was not only retouched, but also recreates a royal wedding. It is said to show Queen Victoria with her groom Albert on their wedding day in 1840. In reality, however, it is a subsequent simulation of the occasion for the lens of photographer Roger Fenton, taken some 14 years after the "real" wedding.

In 1840, when the two came to the altar, photography was still in its infancy and there was still great skepticism about this new art form. It was probably the prince consort, who was extremely interested in technology, who convinced his royal wife to squeeze into her wedding dress again after so long and to be photographed with him in a romantic pose for eternity.

Photography historians today assume that a few wrinkles were manually removed from the faces of the two "bridal couples" and that the picture as a whole was spruced up. In any case, we know from later years that the widowed Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India had official state portraits that were to be sent throughout the Empire extensively adapted to her ideas. In this way, a waist was often created where there was actually no waist. And many of the tear bags and double chin of the aging and now quite heavy monarch were removed with the retouching tool.

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