Has Kate Middleton Just Ended All Remaining Trust in Photographs?

Kate Middleton

Today my mother-in-law texted me to say, “Can’t trust any photo.” Why? Kate Middleton.

The stunning admission that Kate Middleton edited a photo of her and her children has sent shockwaves around the world and undermined the already dwindling trust in the still image.

As an amateur photographer herself, I imagine Kate would be sad about all this.

Is This the Moment All Trust in Photographs Evaporated?

The popularity and endurance of the royal family can’t be understated. Therefore, the concession that they released a doctored photo really is huge and it means that people like my mother-in-law are now fully aware that photos can’t inherently be trusted.

It’s hard to disagree. Putting out edited photos has become par for the course for many celebrities. But as my colleague Jeremy Gray points out, “there’s something quite different about this instance of image manipulation compared to other celeb portraits.”

Kate Middleton family photo that is allegedly doctored

When Khloe Kardashian posts an edited picture of her kid on Instagram, it is not also given to The Associated Press (AP) who circulate it to the world’s media.

The doctored image forced the AP to put out a rare “kill notice” on the picture. The agency’s tagline is “Advancing the power of facts, globally.” The photo they put out yesterday was advancing lies, globally.

Will the AP and other huge agencies like Getty, Reuters, and AFP, now have to scrutinize future pictures released by the royal family? You would imagine so.

The kill notice sent out by the Associated Press.

What is going on with Kate Middleton is currently a mystery. Before the misleading image was released yesterday, the Princess hadn’t been seen in public since December.

But whatever drama is happening inside the walls of Kensington Palace, a huge blow has just been dealt to the idea of the photograph because if Kate Middleton has the audacity to put out a manipulated image, anyone does.

Proof that the Kate Middleton photo was altered
Close-up of Charlotte’s sleeve. One of the many giveaways that the photo was altered.

We Desperately Need a System

If only there was some sort of provenance system that could provide irrefutable evidence that a photo is genuine and not digitally altered.

Luckily there is one coming in. If William, Prince of Wales (who allegedly took the photo) had used the Leica M11-P to capture the Mother’s Day snap then we would be able to use the Content Credentials system to see what edits have been made. Soon, Nikon, Canon, and Sony will have their own systems in place.

However, both parties — the image taker and the image receiver — must fully opt-in to use this system effectively. Content Credentials is not designed to be a universal fake image detector; it is a program for news organizations such as AP to be able to chart the history of a photo so it can be better trusted.

It means that, for now at least, we live in a world where photos can’t be believed because supposedly venerable institutions such as the British royal family are putting out doctored photos of themselves.

What’s next? The Pope releasing a picture of himself wearing a puffer jacket?