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Women Photographers

The Royal Collection contains many photographs taken by women photographers.

Photograph of Queen Alexandra by Alice Hughes ©

The Royal Collection contains a large amount of work by women photographers, dating from the 19th century to the present day. These photographs show key moments in photographic history, including early experiments, the development of accessible camera technologies and the arrival of colour photography. They also reveal the importance of women in the creation, study and distribution of photographs.

The first woman to photograph the royal family

Frances Sally Day is the earliest woman photographer represented in the Royal Collection and the first woman to photograph the Royal family, following a commission in 1859. Day was among a small number of women who practiced photography during the mid-19th century. This was a time when the cost of photographic materials meant that photography, and being photographed, was a pursuit of the wealthy. 

Queen Alexandra (1844-1925), when Princess of Wales, with her Camera©

Queen Alexandra

Towards the end of the 19th century however, developments in photographic technologies opened photography up to the larger population. In 1888, Kodak released the Kodak No. 1 camera, followed by the popular Brownie camera in 1900. The camera was intended to be accessible, in terms of both cost and ease of use. Kodak offered to process, print and reload the camera, reflecting their slogan 'you press the button, we do the rest'. Advertisements for Kodak cameras largely targeted women, promoting photography as an enjoyable hobby and a way of documenting events and family life. 

Queen Alexandra owned a selection of Kodak cameras and was a keen amateur photographer. She attended photography classes and regularly photographed family, friends and holidays. Her study and enjoyment of photography both promoted the practice of photography and legitimised the place of women photographers.

Photographic studios

In the same period, a number of women-run photographic studios appeared in the United Kingdom and Europe. Now that people could easily take their own photographs, studio photographers had to offer inventive, innovative products to attract customers. The portraits emerging from the late 19th century to mid-20th century comprise a vast range of styles. These include Dorothy Wilding's glamorous, modernist portraits; the delicate, feminine platinum prints of Alice Hughes; and Eva Barrett's 'photographic sketches'.

The profession offered women an independent career and income, in addition to providing a form of artistic expression. Reflecting on her role as a studio photographer, Olive Edis stated that it was:

a life worth living, with no monotony about it, and constantly bringing the worker in touch in a very pleasant way with humanity

Olive Edis

Edis would later see the destruction of war in her role as an official war photographer. Christina Broom also documented aspects of the First World War in the UK as official photographer to the Brigade of Guards and Household Cavalry. Self-taught, Broom had developed a successful business as a photographer making picture postcards of views of London in the early 1900s.

Explore below to find out more about some of the women photographers in the Royal Collection.

Carte-de-visite of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert, Prince Consort (1819-1861) at Osborne in the 1850s. The photograph shows the Queen and Prince Albert standing together in front of a statue of a woman, with the Queen on the left. Queen
Frances Sally Day (1816–92)

The first woman to photograph the royal family

Photograph of Thomas Carlyle, head and shoulders, almost profile right. This portrait of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), celebrated historian and essayist, was widely admired by Cameron’s artist friends, including Millais, Rossetti and Watts. In 1869 Qu
Julia Margaret Cameron (1815–79)

Renowned for her individual and innovative style that went against the standards of the time

Photograph of Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia (1847-1928), and Queen Louise of Denmark (1817-98), and Alexandra, Princess of Wales (1844-1925), all seated, surrounded by much furniture, including screens of photographs and framed photographs, in a sitt
Mary Steen (1856–1939)

Photographer to the Danish court and future Queen Alexandra

Photograph of a head and shoulder length portrait of Queen Sophia of Prussia (1870-1932) facing the camera, her body slightly angled to the left. She is framed by an arched structure featuring various fauna and poses in front of a flower arrange
Alice Hughes (1857–1939)

The most prolific female studio photographer of her day, her success inspired others

This box acted as a container for the Princess of Wales’s negatives and prints when they were sent to Brown-Westhead and Moore to be used in decorating her tea service.
Princess Alexandra (1844–1925)

A keen amateur photographer whose works were exhibited and published during her lifetime

Madame Yevonde (1893–1975)

Noted for her unique portraits and pioneering work with colour photography

Photograph of Scots Guards at a tailors shop at the Chelsea Barracks. The soldiers are seated on stools around a large wooden table laid with sewing machines and various types of cloth. A selection of soldiers turn to face the camera and smile. A pile of
Christina Broom (1862–1939)

Recognised as the first female press photographer

Photograph of a view&nbsp;of the ruins of the Cloth Hall, Ypres.<br /><br />The Cloth Hall, completed in 1304, was one of the largest commercial buildings&nbsp;of the Middle Ages&nbsp;and a major trading centre for the Ypres&nbsp;textile industry.&nbsp;Du
Olive Edis (1876–1955)

The first British female war photographer

Photograph of Princess Astrid, Duchess of Brabant, later Queen Astrid of Belgium (1905-35) with her son Prince Baudouin, later King Baudouin of Belgium (1930-93). Princess Astrid faces the camera, her head turned three-quarters to the left. She gazes down
Eva Barrett (1879–1950)

Turned her failure as a painter into a successful photographic enterprise

Head and shoulders portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, facing the viewer, her torso in left side profile. She wears a black taffeta evening dress with&nbsp;the&nbsp;South Africa Necklace that was a 21st birthday gift from the Government of the Union of Sou
Dorothy Wilding (1893–1976)

The first photographer to capture the newly accessioned Queen Elizabeth II

Framed photograph of a head and shoulder length portrait of&nbsp;Anthony Frederick Blunt (1907-83). He is seated&nbsp;at a desk&nbsp;gazing slightly upwards. A shadow falls across his face.&nbsp;A large book with a royal monogram is positioned on the desk
Jane Bown (1925–2014)

Her works are celebrated for revealing a sense of the person in front of the lens

A head and shoulders photographic portrait&nbsp;of HM Queen Elizabeth II taken at Buckingham Palace. This is one of a portfolio of photographs commissioned to mark the fiftieth anniversary of The Queen's Accession in 2002. The Queen is photographed agains
Polly Borland (b. 1959)

Famed for her bold, striking and fantastical portraits

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.