Inside a Royal Wedding

Bert Hardy’s photograph of Princess Elizabeth arriving with her father, King George VI, at Westminster Abbey on her wedding day stands out amongst the photographer’s wider body of work. A British press photographer, Hardy documented everyday life on the streets of wartime and post-war Britain. He served as a military photographer from 1942-46, taking part in the 1944 D-Day landings and covering the liberation of Paris. In 1941 Hardy had joined Picture Post, a move that would eventually lead him to the nave of Westminster Abbey in 1947 to capture the wedding of the future queen and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten.

Despite the seeming levity of the nuptials, the event marked an important instance of reprieve in a year of continued rationing and post-war austerity, including the worst winter on record since 1881. It also saw Hardy return to the subject which had begun his career, that of the royal family. A self-taught photographer, Hardy’s first break came when he managed to capture George V and Queen Mary as they passed through his borough of London in a carriage. The young photographer was able to sell 200 small prints of the resulting image, and use the profits to buy his first small-format Leica. The intervening years had changed the public’s perception of the Royals, however, as the Windsors were seen to be more and more amongst the people, both during and in the aftermath of World War II.

For her wedding, the Princess had settled on a cream-colored duchess satin gown from court designer Sir Norman Hartnell that itself was paid for with ration coupons. The veil was embroidered with national and Commonwealth floral emblems in gold and silver thread, seed pearls, sequins and crystals, which can be seen prominently trailed behind the Princess in Hardy’s image. The photograph, in which the Monarch and his daughter’s faces remain unseen, brings the symbolic weight of the gown’s floral motif to the fore. Hartnell is said to have referenced Botticelli’s La Primavera, the embodiment of spring, in order to represent the post-war rebirth of Britain and the Commonwealth.

Hardy’s image further speaks to the role of observer in such a ceremony, a role which would become increasingly familiar to the British public over the course of the mid-century. In June 1953, Elizabeth’s coronation was to be held at Westminster Abbey and televised by the BBC to a worldwide audience of millions. This event would signal the beginning of the end for Hardy’s career in photojournalism at Picture Post, which ceased publication in June 1957 due to the rise in television sets and falling circulation.

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