Hundreds of photographers will spend Saturday trying to capture the perfect image of the coronation. But one faces a tougher task: to turn King Charles III into an icon.
Hugo Burnand, 59, is the coronation’s official portrait photographer and, shortly after the newly crowned Charles returns to Buckingham Palace, will have just minutes to take a historic image of the monarch.
Mr. Burnand said in a recent interview that he was trying to treat the job like any other — “I have to do what I know how to do well and let history take care of itself,” he said.
But some experts say that he faces a sizable challenge. Paul Moorhouse, a curator who in 2012 oversaw a major British exhibition of portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, said in an email that Mr. Burnand had to capture the glory of monarchy while appealing to younger generations sceptical of the institution.
“It will be a difficult balancing act,” Mr. Moorhouse said of creating an image that does both of those things. Unfortunately for Mr. Burnand “there is no model” to copy, Mr. Moorhouse added, since previous coronation photographers worked at times when Britain was enthralled with the idea of monarchy.
For centuries, Britain’s royal family has commissioned artists to paint coronation portraits. Since King Edward VII’s coronation in 1902, it has commissioned photographers, too, hoping to create enthralling images for newspapers worldwide.
The task is not for the fainthearted. Cecil Beaton, the official photographer for the coronation of Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953, wrote in his diaries that he had such nerves the night before that he drank heavily at dinner and woke up hung over.
When he came to photograph the queen, he felt that the lighting was wrong but didn’t have time to change anything. “I was banging away and getting pictures at a great rate,” he wrote. “I had only the foggiest notion of whether I was taking black and white, or color, or giving the right exposures.”
Mr. Burnand, a former society photographer for Tatler magazine, was perhaps an unsurprising choice for this coronation, having had a long relationship with the royal family.
In 2004, the royals asked him to photograph Charles and Camilla’s wedding the next year, but Mr. Burnand said that when he got the email, he initially turned down the job. He was on sabbatical in Bolivia and had just been robbed, he said. “I’ve had all the family’s passports stolen, and our money, and my cameras!” Mr. Burnand recalled replying.
He quickly changed his mind, though, and the wedding turned out to be a career breakthrough. Beforehand, he said, he felt like he was “really flapping my wings” trying to fly. Afterward, he no longer had to wait for the phone to ring with offers of work.
A few years later, he took Charles’s official 60th birthday portrait. (Charles was depicted in a surprisingly casual fashion, leaning back in a gold chair.) And he also shot the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, somehow making the occasion look intimate by photographing the newlyweds surrounded by page boys and bridesmaids.
During the recent interview, Mr. Burnand said that he loathed having his own portrait taken, but that the feeling made him a better photographer as he tried to make his sitters feel as comfortable as possible.
Being prepared also helps. He said he had spent weeks studying images of past coronations. He has also tried to consider everything that might go wrong, such as an equipment failure. And he even examined the environmental impact of his camera equipment to ensure that he was in sync with Charles’s pro-environmental views.
Now, Mr. Burnand said, he just wanted to get going: “Bring it on! Bring it on! Let’s do this!”