Studio Lisa – A Royal Affair

February 2, 2010 | By Bob Ahern | Archive

Getty Images conservator Lenny Hanson has spent eighteen painstaking months conserving the original Royal Studio Lisa job books. Spanning thirty years and three generations of royals, each album contains contact prints numbered with their corresponding negative and in some cases marked with comments direct from Buckingham Palace – an “X” or simple “NO” rejecting a less than flattering picture.

A Conversation with Conservation from Hulton Archive on Vimeo.

So what’s all the fuss about?

In recent years there’s been a strained, sometimes hostile, relationship between press photographers and the royal family but things weren’t always so tense. Queen Victoria and her beloved Albert were immediate fans of the new medium of photography and amongst its earliest sponsors. Later Victoria cultivated photographic studios like W&D Downey to circulate her image and reconnect with subjects alienated by the long, dark years of mourning following Albert’s death.  Downey’s fresh and natural photograph of beautiful, fashionable Alexandra, Princess of Wales – the Princess Diana of her day in more ways than one – was their bestselling image.

Top: 1867: Princess Alexandra (1844 – 1925) carrying her first-born daughter Louise on her back. (Photo by W&D Downey/Getty Images). Bottom: 1986: Princess Diana carries Prince Harry on her shoulders at Highgrove. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images).

However as magazine and newspaper circulations grew so did the demand for more and more candid imagery and the relationship between Palace and Press became more cautious. For those photographers outside “The Family” circle – (which included photographers such as  Lichfield and Snowdon)  – access was often reduced to the jostling scrum of the Royal Rota – where press passes are awarded on a strictly controlled basis and photographers herded together into one prime position.


Photographers await the first glimpse of Diana, Princess of Wales and her newborn son Prince Harry, September 1984. (Photo by John Downing/Getty Images)

And that’s what makes the work of Studio Lisa so unique. Lisa Sheridan, with husband Jimmy’s technical backup and her young daughter Dinah – yes, the actress – as a model, began earning money photographing for women’s magazines in the 1920s. In 1936 Lisa was offered a sitting with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at the Royal Lodge in Great Windsor Park. It was the beginning of a long and close relationship with the soon to-be-crowned George VI and his family. Lisa was allowed unprecedented backstage access to the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret as they grew up, and in turn to Elizabeth’s children Charles, Anne, Edward and Andrew.

1941: Princess Margaret plays Cinderella to Princess Elizabeth’s Prince Charming in a royal pantomime at Windsor Castle.

1940: Princess Margaret Rose on the sofa at Windsor Castle accompanied by Jane the corgi.

1954: Prince Charles with a corgi dog in the grounds of The Royal Lodge, Windsor, Berkshire.

Lisa Sheridan was still receiving new commissions from the Palace right up to her death in 1966 at the age of 72 leaving a legacy of intimate, personal and revealing portraits – a far cry from the massed ranks press photographers that follow the royals today.

Press Photographers surround Prince William as he greets the crowd at Sighthill Community Education Centre, Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)


Post authors: Justyna Zarnowska, Bob Ahern, Sarah McDonald

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