Royal photographer Chris Jackson's coffee-table book includes images of Queen Elizabeth II that he's taken over the past 19 years, such as this shot of Her Majesty in robin’s egg blue during a visit to a Remembrance Day art installation at the Tower of London in 2014. Photo: Chris Jackson / WPA Pool / Getty Images
A Queen For Our Time
In his book about Queen Elizabeth II, Chris Jackson chooses frames of grand ceremony and great intimacy from his 19 years as royal photographer for Getty Images / BY Leanne Delap / October 14th, 2021
She has the most familiar face in the world – immortalized on coins and bank notes and in formal portraits, and seen in action on the news and social media. Queen Elizabeth II’s famous visage can convey a range of meaning and emotion; even lifting her brow or the faintest hint of a smile can make a shot worthy of the front page of a newspaper.
Now she has been captured in moments of grand ceremony and great intimacy in Elizabeth II: A Queen For Our Time, which features photographer Chris Jackson’s favourite frames from almost two decades as the royal photographer for Getty Images. This coffee-table tome may be the ultimate holiday gift for fans of Britain’s longest-serving monarch.
“I’ve been doing this 19 years, and I’ve been to over 100 countries covering the royal family,” Jackson says in a phone interview from his home base in London.
“This is my record of my small period of time photographing the Queen,” says Jackson, who is married to the personal assistant to the Duchess of Cambridge, Natasha Archer. “She has outlasted the career of every one of her photographers.” Then he lists some of the famous shooters that have come before him, from Cecil Beaton to Tim Graham.
For the cover, Jackson chose a formal portrait, saying it was “one of the biggest privileges of my life to do a one-on-one photo shoot with the Queen. I loved the fact she is wearing her Canadian Insignia. She was so engaged with the camera.” He also points out how it works tonally, with her blue eyes mirrored in a sapphire necklace and tiara set.
Jackson, who published his first photo collection, Modern Monarchy, in 2018, took advantage of his time at home during lockdown to sift through his vast archive. “It was so lovely to go back and remember all the little details, the memories of the trip around the photographs, everything that goes alongside the taking of the picture.” Indeed, it is Jackson’s fulsome captions that make the book come to life, as he reminisces about “the variety of engagements, from huge moments like weddings where the world media is there,” to the bread-and-butter stuff, which he calls “the fabric of British life and British history” – the ribbon cuttings, town-hall tours, visits to royal charities and sports demonstrations.
Timed to come out ahead of the Platinum Jubilee in 2022, which will mark the Queen’s 70 years on the throne, the book shows how hard Her Majesty works. It is a tough slog being a royal photographer, as well. “You find yourself in weird and wonderful situations,” says Jackson. “Much of the job is figuring out how to get from A to B” to catch the royals in action. Sometimes the press is invited on the official RAF planes, and sometimes they scramble to arrange transport.
In photography, much comes down to serendipity. He recalls a trip to Uganda with the Queen in 2007 for a Commonwealth heads of government meeting. “Arriving in Kampala, we found that everyone had been given the day off for the Queen’s arrival. They lined the streets from the airport. It was phenomenal the energy and excitement of so many thousands lining the streets.”
There’s a buzz to world tours, and “it’s exciting to be in the middle of all of it.” The Queen, who turns 96 in April, 2022, has handed off much of her touring duties to the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, as well as the young Cambridge family, but a standout trip for Jackson was the Queen and the late Prince Philip’s nine-day visit to Canada in 2010. “It had just started raining just before I set up for a wide shot,” he remembers about their first day in Halifax. “What I loved about it [is] it started bucketing down and there is a sense of chaos in the picture with umbrellas inside out. The Duke of Edinburgh hasn’t even got an umbrella, he’s just cracking on meeting people. Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out how to keep my cameras dry.”
Jackson speaks about the contrast in his workdays, from intimate set-ups to jostling for position in a throng of photographers. “There is a real sense of competition, and an element of luck, being in the right position at the right time. You have to prepare yourself, anything could happen.” One example is when the Queen fed an elephant named Donna on a tour of the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in Dunstead, England, in 2017. “We knew we’d be photographing the Queen and the Duke, but we didn’t know Donna would be reaching out her trunk to snaffle a banana. The Duke just looked on, bemused. Behind them, I could see some rather nervous looking zookeepers.”
There are many photos of the Queen and Philip, including their 73rd wedding anniversary in November, 2020, just after the lockdown was lifted. The Cambridge children had made a card for the couple with a colourful 73 drawn on the front. Jackson captured Philip’s big smile as he showed his wife their great-grandchildren’s handiwork.
Jackson says he was honoured to capture private moments between the Duke, who died in April at 99, and his wife. “He was this incredible person, a huge support to the monarch. He touched so many lives. I remember doing my own Duke of Edinburgh award, camped out on the side of a raining mountain. He brought that experience to so many young people.”
Jackson says the Queen, mourning the death of her longtime consort, has been remarkably engaged this year. “Seeing her at Trooping the Colour this past summer, tapping her foot to the marching band – she is so buoyant, it’s incredible.”
It is the everyday occasions that provide the texture in this book, and what set it apart from other photo books on the Queen. Jackson has chosen images that show her humanity and her close bond with her family. “There are so many heartwarming moments, especially with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Seeing her interact with them, her face just lights up. It is rare, but so lovely.” He points to a behind-the-scenes moment the Queen shared with Prince George, then a toddler, at his sister Charlotte’s christening.
There is immediacy to the book, because it focuses on the past 20 years. This is the Queen we know, in her array of brightly coloured, monochromatic outfits and hats. She could easily be a cliché, but she’s too skilled for that, and manages to project a unique blend of gravitas and wit on every occasion. Jackson offers us a ringside view of the most famous woman in the world, one who is at the peak of her charismatic power.