Monday, 28 May 2012

A look at Cecil Beaton

I picked up a book about the photographer Cecil Beaton CBE (January 1904 – January 1980) in a second hand bookshop a little while back. The book tells the story Beaton's life in the first section and then a has great many plates that span his whole career. I was surprised at how experimental and modern some of the photographic concepts appear. His early images of sisters Baba (Barbara) and Nancy show an interest in costume and elaborately designed set-ups. In later years Beaton is to win awards for his costume designs for the films 'My Fair Lady' and 'Gigi'.

Beaton has been a photographer for British vogue and Vanity Fair. He is also well known for his society and Hollywood Star portraits. Beaton also photographed the Royal Family on numerous occasions.

During the early war years Beaton was employed by the Ministry of Information to document the war on the home front. One of his images, a young girl clutching her teddy bear and recovering in hospital after a German bombing raid, was used in the world wide press. Images like this would eventually cause the American Government to join the war.

I thought this look at Beaton might be quite relevant to this module for a number of reasons. There is naturally a great deal of black and white photography which provides for a good study of tones. Equally interesting is his composition and use of props. It is also often  mentioned that Beaton was not the most technically adept of photographers and examining the reason for these comments could be useful.

Beaton has been an influence on photographers such as David Bailey and Angus McBean.

A Google image search revealed a good cross section of Cecil Beaton's work.

Baba, Wanda Baillie-Hamilton and Lady Bridget Poullett, 1928, showing creative use of props.

Eileen Dunne in the hospital for sick children 1940. 
Marlene Dietrich, 1935
Fashion, c1950's
Ref: Beaton, James Danziger Octopus Books, 1980, ISBN 0 7064 2663 0