Marcus Adams (1875-1959) had a 50-year career photographing children, and is best known as the royal photographer who broke the mould in royal portraiture. His images of a relaxed royal family shattered the tradition of only portraying royalty in staged, very stiff poses. Adams strove to capture moments in which his sitter was truly at ease, and was quoted saying that photography is ‘ninety-five percent psychology and only five percent mechanical.’ In order to capture those real, fleeting moments, Adams filled his studio with toys rather than fancy lighting equipment that could distract his subject. His camera itself was a specially built custom camera disguised to look like a toy cabinet, so he could photograph his subjects more candidly.
After opening his London studio, Adams quickly gained a reputation as one of the UK’s premier children’s photographers, known for his unpretentious style and naturalistic lighting. In 1926, the Duke and Duchess of York first brought their daughter Princess Elizabeth to Adams’ studio for the first sitting of what was to become a 30-year relationship between the royal family and Marcus Adams. Throughout this period, Adams photographed all of the royal children at various stages of their lives, sometimes as single portraits, others as family groups, and others of siblings together. Having first photographed Princess Elizabeth as a child, Adams went on to photograph her children, continuing his tradition as family photographer for another generation of royalty. Adams captured hundreds of images of the royal family, some of which were reserved for the family’s private collection, and others which were published in newspapers, magazines, postcards, postage stamps, commemorative china, and other memorabilia.
Although most of the public know of Adams’ work through memorabilia or media publication, privately the photographs were sometimes used by the royal family as reminders of home when the royal couple were away on tour. King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth toured Australia and New Zealand for 6 months shortly after Princess Elizabeth was first photographed by Adams; in the next generation, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh toured the Commonwealth for 6 months in 1953-54 when their children were still quite young. During both of these long stints abroad, Adams continued to photograph the children back home, having them sent overseas to show their parents how much they were growing or to bring some much needed joy during long journeys.
Marcus Adams: Royal Photographer is a book which features many of Adams’ photographs from the Royal Photograph Collection.
All photographs are shared here courtesy of The Camera Club Collection