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'Not the Girl But the Legend': mythology, photography and the posthumous cult of Diana

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Publication details

JournalLife Writing
DatePublished - 2006
Issue number1
Number of pages19
Pages (from-to)101-120
Original languageEnglish


Taking as its starting point the public rituals of mourning following the death of Diana Princess of Wales, the article explores some of the ways in which the popular imagination combines folktale elements with the consumption of still and moving images to mythologize real life female celebrity figures. Tracing the origins of the modern massmarketing of celebrity back to the mid-nineteenth century, the argument pays particular attention to the role of the camera both in objectifying the female subject and in enabling her to explore multiple versions of the self. Comparisons with the work of the Victorian photographer Clementina Lady Hawarden, whose sitters (her adolescent daughters) are commonly seen as expressing constriction and captivity, and with Marilyn Monroe's self-projections for the lens of Eve Arnold create a context for exploring Diana?s use of, and abuse by, her many photographers as well as the ways in which, in the weeks following her death, what had formerly been seen as celebrity images became converted into icons. Finally, the article considers Roland Barthes' ideas about the ability of the camera to capture the essence of the self, relating them both to another Victorian sitter, Henry Fox Talbot's wife Constance, and to Diana herself.

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