Getty Photo Agency Says Another Royal Portrait Was Digitally Doctored

What exactly is happening in the photo department at Kensington Palace?

The front pages of some British newspapers, dominated by stories about the altered Mother's Day photo released by Kensington Palace on March 10, of Britain's Catherine, Princess of Wales and her children, in London on March 12, 2024. Photo: Paul Ellis / AFP.

A photo agency has determined that a second portrait of the British royal family has been doctored, giving rise to further doubts about the trustworthiness of Kensington Palace to present itself faithfully to the public, and, naturally, to memes galore.

It all started with a plainly doctored photo of Catherine Middleton, Princess of Wales, that Kensington Palace released in an effort to assuage suspicions about Middleton’s whereabouts. Kate had been out of the public eye for an unusually long stretch, supposedly after a medical procedure, and royal family watchers (and obsessives) were generating heaps of conspiracy theories about her whereabouts. 

Eagle-eyed observers noted that the photo, of Middleton with her three children, published on Mother’s Day in the U.K., March 10, and credited to her husband, had been extensively and poorly doctored. The Associated Press, AFP and Reuters withdrew the image from their databases of photos for news publications.

“Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing,” Middleton wrote on X. “I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C.”

An A.I.-generated photo of Kate Middleton posing with her children.

Kensington Palace posted this photo, supposedly showing Kate Middleton and her children, for Mother’s Day. Via the family’s official X account.

Now, having deep-sixed that one, the agencies have started to comb through their stock of photos of royals. “Getty Images is undertaking a review of handout images and in accordance with its editorial policy is placing an editor’s note on images where the source has suggested they could be digitally enhanced,” according to a statement the agency supplied to USA Today.

Getty promptly determined that there is also something fishy going on with a photo of Queen Elizabeth II, credited to Kate this time. 

The news comes in the form of an understated note on a Getty Images photo of the late queen seated on a couch and surrounded by 10 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, supposedly taken last summer by Kate at the royal family’s retreat at Balmoral Castle. The image, titled “New Photograph Marks 97th Birthday of Queen Elizabeth II” in Getty’s database, has been appended with an editor’s note that dryly reads, “Image has been digitally enhanced at source.”

Keen-eyed sleuths have picked apart the image’s many digital manipulations, the most egregious of which include distinct crop marks on the Queen’s tartan skirt and clone effects on the hair of Mia Tindall and Savannah Phillips. “People need to understand that it’s not ‘just a family photo,'” explained X user Katerina. “It’s made for historical record.”

In a particularly rich irony, the notes to photo editors on the original photo state, “The photograph must not be digitally enhanced, manipulated, or modified in any manner or form and must include all of the individuals in the photograph when published.”

Might Kate, amateur photographer, have also been behind this Photoshop bungle? One would think that she would be sensitive to detail when it comes to imagery; she actually studied art history at the University of St. Andrews, and she helped to curate an exhibition of Victorian photography at London’s National Portrait Gallery in 2018.

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