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13 January 2017
Better known as Lord Snowdon -- a title he acquired after marrying Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II, in 1960 -- Antony Armstrong-Jones died Friday at home in London at the age of 86.
After flunking his architecture exams and being expelled from Cambridge in 1951, he set himself up in London to shoot portraits and parties. He called portraiture a cruel art, given to long silences.
His early work as a society photographer appeared in Tatler before he became a royal court photographer, capturing the birthdays and other special occasions of the royal family.
He photographed Margaret in 1958, started a secret affair and became the first commoner in four centuries to marry a king's daughter. But he fathered an illegitimate child just months before the wedding. "His career was punctuated by lurid tales of extra-marital affairs, alcohol and drugs, but throughout it all he maintained a close contact with the Royal Family," the BBC noted in his obituary.
'Taking photographs is a very nasty thing to do. It's very cruel.'
After his marriage, the Earl of Snowdon became an advisor to London's Sunday Times and published his work in many magazines and books. Over 100 of his images are in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Just as famous as his celebrity subjects, his photo credits use only the single name "Snowdon," although he was more popularly known as the Royal Rebel.
He once described his way of working with his subjects:
I'm not a great one for chatting people up, because it's phony. I don't want people to feel at ease. You want a bit of edge. There are quite long, agonized silences. I love it. Something strange might happen. I mean, taking photographs is a very nasty thing to do. It's very cruel.
In a 1960 feature, Vogue said of him, "He sees for himself, is not impressed by Names, and persuades the powerful to be photographed the way he wants, not the stuffy way they usually prefer."
In 1971, for example, he was on assignment to photograph J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings. Finding the author's home an uninspiring setting for the portrait, he suggested they go for a walk. He posed Tolkien among some exposed tree roots on the slope of a hill evoking the labyrinthine Shelob's Lair stretching out beneath him.
When a fire nearly destroyed his Kensington studio in London, the magazine editor Frances von Hofmannsthal, who is also his daughter, catalogued his work and set up the Snowdon Archive.