If a simple picture can be worth a thousand words, royal photographer Chris Jackson has got to have gilded talent.
Over the past two decades, the photographer has captured images of the British royal family for Getty Images. For his part, Jackson has familiarized the world with arguably its most publicized and simultaneously closed-door families. From snapping intimate private portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and her heirs to covering big world-stage moments like her Platinum Jubilee, Jackson has photographed some of the most iconic royal moments of the half-century.
Speaking to TODAY in an interview, Jackson touched on the rewards and rigor of his role.
The queen’s official birthday in 2021 was marked with a pared-down celebration for the second year in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, Jackson managed to convey the continued effort in a series of photographs. In one standout image, Jackson captured the queen looking on at her Queen’s Guard.
“It wasn’t the normal Trooping the Color, which, of course, is the queen’s official birthday celebrations,” Jackson explained. “But this enabled me to sort of capture a slightly more creative moment, I suppose, using shots and getting the soldiers marching past the queen. And it’s quite difficult, and the royal photographers try and create something a little bit different because you’ll be constrained by time and an often sort of positioning. But this was something a little bit different. And I was kind of happy with the results. So that was a little bit more creative.”
In 2012, Jackson managed to capture a rare image of the queen that has become part of the royal canon for its hint at her playful personality.
At the time, the monarch was visiting a new maternity ward at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, England, and Jackson snapped a photo of the queen with an arch expression on her face as she looked up at a group of nurses standing on a balcony above her.
“This particular photo is one of my favorite photographs. For the queen, it’s slightly unusual and it really kind of illustrates what is so important about photographing the queen,” Jackson said. “The reason I find this very special is that (for) every sort of day-to-day royal engagement, you may or may not get a picture that stands out in the royal collection for sort of tens, or maybe even if you’re lucky, hundreds of years to come. And this was a sort of day-to-day role and engagement, but everything came together in a moment to create something a little bit different.”
As rules around COVID relaxed, Jackson was able to photograph a unique moment between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles in August 2021.
The mother and son were able to meet for a walk in the gardens of Frogmore House, where the royal family hosts private and public events.
“What I loved at this moment was it was an absolutely beautiful spring morning, and the daffodils and the blossoms were out, and it was also a shot taken probably just around one of the first moments where families were able to meet up with the sort of social distancing during COVID, and that was a particularly poignant thing seeing the queen and the Prince of Wales together in Frogmore, and it made a lovely photograph,” he recalled.
Rare are the moments a person will ever find themselves face to face with the queen, but as part of her royal service, she engages with new faces often.
For Jackson, taking images of her public-facing role is one of the best parts of his job, particularly because of her presence.
“The queen is my favorite person to photograph. She’s just got this incredible aura and presence to her,” Jackson explained. “I think what is so special is that she really understands what it means to the people she’s meeting on the day, how important it is to them. For her, it’s just another day’s work. But for them, it’s the moment they meet the queen in their lives.”
Elizabeth doesn’t just meet people for her day-to-day duties.
In 2017, the monarch held court at an elephant center at a zoo, where one elephant named Donna was particularly fascinated by the contents of her pocket.
“This is one of the more unusual pictures of the queen meeting Donna the Asian elephant at Whipsnade Animal Park,” he said of the photo. “When I got up that morning to go and photograph the queen opening the new elephant sanctuary, I didn’t expect to take a photograph of the queen actually feeding this huge and potentially dangerous animal. It’s quite funny, just out of shot, there are some quite worried-looking zookeepers kind of holding this massive elephant back, but this was my particular favorite. It was of Donna with her trunk, kind of outstretched in anticipation, keen to snaffle a banana from the queen’s pocket.”
As a royal photographer, Jackson has been privy to the queen’s fondness for animals.
“The queen has a lifelong love of animals and dogs and horses in particular, and of course, she’s had her corgis and her doggies, and there are some lovely photographs of the queen with her dogs,” he explained. “It makes her happy.”
“Her passion for horse racing is probably, you know, absolutely her No. 1 pastime, and that can’t be denied. So she likes that when she’s around horses,” Jackson noted. “It’s almost a cliché now, but Royal Ascot would be absolutely top of her list of events to attend every year.”
Chris Jackson’s book “Elizabeth II: A Queen for Our Time” is available for purchase now.