Publication by DPDF 2007 “Visual Culture” Fellow Ryan Linkof.
This essay analyzes the photographic news coverage of the relationship of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. The emergence of the photographic newspapers in the years after 1900 presented unique challenges for the royal family. The press photographer established a new and enduring idiom of representing the British royals, one based on visual immediacy and documentary access. The photographic coverage of the affair between King Edward and Simpson constructed the royal family as objects of visual surveillance as never before, placing the couple at a key juncture in the history of photographing celebrities before the growth of the paparazzi in the late twentieth century. The photographs of the couple’s affair offered the public an unprecedented amount of access to the private life of the monarch, exposing and verifying the secret activities that had once only been the material of gossip and lampoon. Representing a “stolen” moment of utter candor, the tabloid snapshot proclaimed itself as representing the truth of royal life. Because the only real political authority of the British monarchy derived from its symbolism, transmitted through staged spectacles and grand portraits, the press photographs of the couple’s affair represented a serious challenge to monarchical power.