How the Duchess of Cambridge Uses Photography and Social Media to Show the Royal Family as a "Relatable Unit"

According to Kensington Palace curator Claudia Acott Williams.

(Image credit: Getty/WPA Pool)

For most British subjects and royal fans around the world alike, the only glimpse into royal lives we'll ever get is through a camera lens.

That, according to Kensington Palace curator Claudia Acott Williams, is far from incidental—the Royal Family consciously utilizes photography to curate their public image, which is perhaps the most crucial aspect of their role within the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth today.

"Really I suppose the method of photography is the most important tool in a constitutional monarchy," Williams tells Marie Claire. "Because in a constitutional monarchy, the monarch has no political power, but they have the symbolic power, so it's hard power vs. soft power. So in a soft power situation, the monarch, they reign rather than rule. They're a national figurehead, and in order to do that, they need to be seen.

"So really their power is vested in their image, and photography became a really important way of democratizing the royal image and making it much more… it created a really important bond between monarchy and subjects and at a time when monarchies around Europe were starting to go into decline and to crumble, in the 19th and early 20th century. Photography gave them a more democratic tool to show themselves to the public."

That's why the photography medium made so much sense to illustrate royal history from over the past two centuries, as part of Kensington Palace's new exhibition, "Life Through a Royal Lens," which opened earlier this month.

For Williams, who curated the exhibition, the Duchess of Cambridge is an especially salient example of a royal using photography to craft a more approachable image for the family.

"We kind of saw her as, in some ways, the link that connects Queen Victoria and today," Williams says.

"They were both using this tool as a way to not only record their growing family, like you or I might do, but also to be able to share pictures of the family with the world.

"That is quite an important part of royal branding, this image of the family and of a strong, stable family in solidarity with the nation—which I think has always historically been an important part of royal image-making, historically to show the continuation of the family line successfully, and today more as something that's a kind of relatable unit we all invest in.

"We watch those children grow up through photographs and we become invested emotionally in their lives and their progression, those very relatable milestones."

For the curator, the fact that anyone can take and share photos of their own family on social media is part of why it's such a successful PR strategy for royals to use.

"It's a sort of royal tradition which is also in most households a family tradition," she says. "Most parents have vast albums—or would have had vast albums, now have millions of photographs on their iPhone—of their children.

"Obviously, the royals have been no different, but the difference is—well no, I suppose it's a difference and it's not—we choose what we share on Instagram or on Facebook today and we consider that carefully, and what we want that to say about us and our family. They're doing that on a macro scale for a much bigger audience. But I think it's all a very relatable process.

"Obviously, these photographs take on new resonance because of who they are being taken of and by. It's a clever strategy, and it allows her to—her children are perhaps less photographed than almost any generation before them in terms of what's released publicly, but what we're getting with her photographs is a very intimate vantage point through which to view their lives, because those pictures are pictures taken by a mother of their children."

Morning Editor

Iris Goldsztajn is a London-based journalist, editor and author. She is the morning editor at Marie Claire, and her work has appeared in the likes of British Vogue, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29 and SELF. Iris writes about everything from celebrity news and relationship advice to the pitfalls of diet culture and the joys of exercise. She has many opinions on Harry Styles, and can typically be found eating her body weight in cheap chocolate.