With the UK in a period of national mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, thousands have flocked to London ahead of Monday's state funeral to pay their respects. Acclaimed photographer Orlando Gili has captured some of those compelled to bring flowers to honour her legacy.
Focusing solely on the individuals carrying bouquets, Orlando's series not only visualises how strong the national affection is for the Queen but also reveals a criss-cross of modern Britain, combining both young and old and those from all over the country. The pictures were shot in Buckingham Palace, St James's Park and Green Park within seven days of the Queen's passing on 8 September 2022.
Orlando recalls when the news broke: "As a Londoner, I dashed to Buckingham Palace. In the fading blue light, with thick brooding clouds above, a mass of people was already outside the palace. Teenagers had clambered above the Queen Victoria Memorial, and thousands were pressed against the palace gates, holding phones high in the sky. The atmosphere was one of uncertainty and excitement, a historic spectacle. People had started to bring flowers; I immediately thought this would make a good series, as it's not something I've seen before on this scale."
Orlando then returned each day, whenever he had a spare moment, to meet various wellwishers and ask if he could take their portrait and then have conversations with them. It provided great insight into the mood of the country. "Once the news had sunk in, the day after the Queen's death, there was a subdued and calm mournful atmosphere around the royal residence. It was clear that it wasn't just Londoners who wanted to pay their respect to the Queen. People had travelled far and wide; I photographed people from the neighbouring counties of Surrey, Essex, and Sussex, as well as those who had made a day trip from Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Lancashire in North England."
"There was a broad sweep of people," he continues. "Eighty-something lifelong friends in cardigans, teenagers in uniform straight from school, workmen who have spent years tending to the gardens next to Buckingham Palace, a plethora of couples and groups of families, a retired pilot from the United States, and two friends who felt compelled to steal two single flowers from outside Nando's."
Initially, people were allowed to walk outside Buckingham Palace, where flowers were left by the huge wrought iron gates. But that was later cornered off, and The Green Park Floral Tribute Garden was created for people to leave their bouquets and pay their respects. This is where Orlando followed the crowds, documenting people who stood out. The green space was surrounded by thick trees, which diminished the daylight, giving it a calm and serene mood of a church," he says. "Having dropped off their flowers, the public admired the multitude of flowers, hand-drawn cards and objects, such as Paddington bears, left by fellow mourners."
Reflecting on the last week, Orlando believes there appears to be a "quasi-spiritual connection" between much of the British public and the Queen. "For many, she represents a reassuring constant in increasingly turbulent times, a figurehead seen as selfless, gracious and stoical. I think she also makes people think of all women that people know of that generation, whether grandmother, aunt or neighbour. This was particularly apparent as some people had brought two sets of flowers, one for the Queen and another for a family member."
Based in London, Orlando Gili is an award-winning documentary photographer renowned for turning the mundane everyday into the extraordinary, capturing a world of colour and personality amongst the predictability of life. He particularly loves celebrating individual expression and eccentricity, documenting our shared desire for community and belonging. As such, his work has appeared in The Guardian, The Sunday Times Magazine, and the FT Weekend. He's also behind an opinionated Guide to London Pubs, published by Hoxton Mini Press in 2021, as well as Trivial Pursuits: The English at Play. Discover more at orlandogili.com or follow Orlando on Instagram.