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Queen Victoria: A 19th century Kardashian

Queen Victoria was a precursor to the Kardashians. Case in point: A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography, which opens at The Getty today, documents her lifelong relationship with the camera. This fascinating exhibit provides an extraordinary peak at the queen's private and public life, showcasing images of her as a wife, mother, widow and empress.

A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography
Courtesy of The Getty

Recently crowned Queen Victoria was only 19 when photography was invented. Just as the Kardashians rode the nascent wave of reality TV, the young queen and her beloved husband, Prince Albert, embraced the new medium in 1839. Ironically, Queen Victoria thought the first portrait she sat for was horrible because her eyes were closed. Like many a Kardashian, she did what she could to prevent the image from being seen in public at the time -- she scratched William Edward Kilburn's daguerrotype to remove her face! No doubt, she'd be upset to see it's currently on display here. Two days later, Queen Victoria posed for another photo, but you'll notice she foiled Kilburn by positioning herself in profile and donning a huge brimmed bonnet to hide her face! Despite this inauspicious start, Queen Victoria became the first British monarch to have her life fully covered by the camera. Her interest in the new medium essentially gave it a royal seal of approval, making photographs even more fashionable.

Popular carte de viste - calling cards with the visitor's photo on them - emerged. Some of the ones Queen Victoria liked to carry with her are in the exhibit. Consider them the social media of her day, comparable to Twitter and Facebook, which the Kardashians readily adopted.

The Queen and Prince Albert shared their passion for photography and spent hours creating photo albums together. The Kardashians do something similar with their video scrapbooking in A Very Merry Christmas. Taking it to the next level, Queen Victoria had a custom-made bracelet featuring pictures of her grandchildren, which is also on view. It wasn't until 1860, however, that pictures of the queen were sold to the public. Of course, the Kardashians have branded their images on everything from coffee cups to greeting cards.

Some of the images in this show are intimately reflexive. After Prince Albert posed for a portrait, Queen Victoria sat for her own, holding that same portrait of Albert in her lap. The two photographs are hung side-by-side, with the subjects facing each other in this exhibit. Similarly, the Kardashians often use clips from their old TV episodes in their new TV shows and Instagram old photos.

Kim Kardashian made headlines with her sex tape. Rumor has it Queen Victoria had an affair with her Highland servant John Brown. Could the photo of Queen Victoria and John Brown at Balmoral be a 19th century version of a sex tape?

Granted, it's ludicrous to liken the Kardashians to Queen Victoria, but if it inspires a new generation to see this historic exhibit, that's what matters.

Peruse this royal event.


A Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography - free

February 4, 2014 - June 8, 2014

The Getty Museum

1200 Getty Center Drive

Los Angeles 90049


Parking is $15 per car, but reduced to $10 after 5 p.m. on Saturdays

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