Duchess of Cambridge launches photobook capturing loss and challenges of Covid crisis

Victoria Ward
·4-min read
The glossy, hardback tome, Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020, will provide a unique record of the resilience, bravery and kindness shown during the crisis, whilst also encapsulating the utter human tragedy that came alongside it.   - Matt Porteous
The glossy, hardback tome, Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020, will provide a unique record of the resilience, bravery and kindness shown during the crisis, whilst also encapsulating the utter human tragedy that came alongside it. - Matt Porteous

They are images that capture the unimaginable pain and the loneliness of lockdown, but they also tell a different story.

They remind us, said the Duchess of Cambridge, that we need each other “more than we had ever realised.”

The 100 photographs chosen as finalists for the Duchess’s Hold Still project, designed to capture the national mood during the toughest days of the pandemic, are to be published in a new book.

The glossy, hardback tome, Hold Still: A Portrait of Our Nation in 2020, will provide a unique record of the resilience, bravery and kindness shown during the crisis, whilst also encapsulating the utter human tragedy that came alongside it.

In an introduction to the book, the Duchess said she had wanted to use the power of photography to create a lasting record of the pandemic, to capture individual stories and significant moments for families and communities.

“When we look back at the COVID-19 pandemic in decades to come, we will think of the challenges we all faced – the loved ones we lost, the extended isolation from our families and friends and the strain placed on our key workers,” she said.

“But we will also remember the positives: the incredible acts of kindness, the helpers and heroes who emerged from all walks of life, and how together we adapted to a new normal.”

When the Duchess called upon Britons to capture life in lockdown last May, more than 31,000 submissions were received from people of all ages and backgrounds.

Never without her grandma by Melanie Lowis - Melanie Lowis 
Never without her grandma by Melanie Lowis - Melanie Lowis

She said she was “thrilled” with the response, and with the help of a judging panel including Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, and Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, chose 100 of the most striking to form what she described as a “collective portrait of our nation.”

“From photographs of NHS staff caring for those battling the virus, to families sharing tender moments through closed windows, each of the images gave an insight into what others were going through during this unprecedented time,” she wrote in the introduction to the book.

“For me, the power of the images is in the poignant and personal stories that sit behind them.”

The Duchess, herself a keen photographer and patron of the National Portrait Gallery, said she was “delighted” to speak to some of the photographers and sitters and to hear their stories.

“A common theme of those conversations was how lockdown reminded us about the importance of human connection and the huge value we place on the relationships we have with the people around us,” she added.

“Although we were physically apart, these images remind us that, as families, communities and a nation we need each other more than we had ever realised.”

The Duchess has bucked royal tradition by taking her own official pictures of her children, often dispensing with “official” photographers.

Her images of Prince George, seven, Princess Charlotte, five, and Prince Louis, two, have been reproduced in newspapers, magazines and calendars worldwide.

Hold Still book - Duchess of Cambridge - Diana Stainton 
Hold Still book - Duchess of Cambridge - Diana Stainton
 Hold Still book - Duchess of Cambridge introduction - National Portrait Gallery
Hold Still book - Duchess of Cambridge introduction - National Portrait Gallery

In 2017, the Royal Photographic Society (RPS) declared her a "role model" for amateur photographers as it awarded her lifetime honorary membership, praising her "talent and enthusiasm" behind the lens.

Two years later, she was named patron of the organisation, taking over from the Queen after 67 years.

The Duchess began publishing her work when her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, asked her to take pictures for their Party Pieces website in 2008, and has since picked up tips from famous names such as Mario Testino, when she has had official portraits taken of herself.

In 2012, she released a series of photographs from the royal tour of South East Asia and the South Pacific in 2012, including an image of a misty Mount Kinabalu - the highest point in Borneo at 13,400ft above sea level.

The Hold Still book, costing £24.95, will be available from May 7, one year since the project was first launched. Proceeds will be split between mental health charity Mind, and the National Portrait Gallery to help support arts and mental health projects.

It includes highlights from a community exhibition that saw the 100 portraits plastered across 80 billboards and outdoor poster sites last October.

 Glass Kisses by Steph James - Steph James 
Glass Kisses by Steph James - Steph James

Dr Cullinan hailed the “phenomenal” public response to the project and the images submitted had “helped to create a unifying and cathartic portrait of life in lockdown.”

He added: “Hold Still is an important record of this extraordinary moment in our history – expressed through the faces of the nation – and we hope will remain so for generations to come.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said the “inspiring” collection of portraits illustrated the impact of the pandemic “in all its complexity,” but also showed how “creativity, art and human connection can help us find meaning in unprecedented challenges.”

The image of the Duchess featured in the book was taken by Matt Porteous in Norfolk last autumn.