The Duchess of Cambridge has hailed the “power of photography” as she launched the book of her landmark project to capture images of life under lockdown.
Kate said the 100 photographs taken by the public and featured in Hold Still: A Portrait Of Our Nation In 2020, left her feeling she had “lived through the experience” of the people in the pictures.
In a touching gesture she played fairy godmother to readers in the capital and left a copy of her book in Kensington Palace gardens to be found – one of 150 “hidden” by Hold Still judges and photographers across the country.
The duchess launched her Hold Still project in May last year with the National Portrait Gallery to encourage the public to pick up a camera or smartphone and capture the “spirit of the nation” during the pandemic.
To mark the book’s release Kate visited the gallery’s archives and met Hold Still entrants Lotti Sofia, Niaz Maleknia and Claudia Burton, whose photographs feature in the book.
The duchess spoke about the emotional power of the images when the judging panel was choosing the final 100 pictures from more than 35,000 entries.
“You would look at the image, then you would read the caption underneath… you felt like you had lived through the experience. That’s the power of photography,” she said.
Kate told the three finalists: “These are personal moments you have captured, and it’s a great thing to share them with the world.”
The duchess is an avid photographer who regularly publishes pictures of her children and she joked about keeping youngsters still when shown an early image of inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone and his family from 1851.
After seeing the daguerreotype the duchess, who wore a red coat by Eponine, said: “I just don’t know how they kept the children still!”
Among the memorable pictures from Hold Still was Steph James’ image, called Glass Kisses, of her one-year-old son placing his hand on a window while his great grandmother, on the other side of the glass, kissed his hand.
Kate spoke about another iconic image from the Hold Still project when she visited the Royal London Hospital in east London, to learn how Barts Health NHS Trust’s Vital Arts organisation commissions art for the Royal London and the trust’s other hospitals to improve the patient and staff experience.
The duchess and the National Portrait Gallery have gifted the hospital a framed copy of Johannah Churchill’s photograph entitled Melanie, March 2020, an image of her fellow nurse wearing personal protective equipment and helping to prepare a Covid-19 clinic for patients.
The picture, recreated as a powerful mural in Manchester, is the cover image of the book Hold Still and will hang in the Royal London’s main corridor as a reminder of NHS staff’s efforts throughout the pandemic.
Kate chatted again about the judging process for her project, saying: “I’ve got memories of all these thumbnails across my dining room table and I was like, please can we have a few more than 100.
“It’s about the stories. It’s about more than art.”
Looking at the portrait of Melanie, she said: “It’s become really iconic, hasn’t it?
“Some of them had really powerful stories behind them and this one really stood out.”