(1904 – 1980)
Born: Broad Chalke, United Kingdom
“All I want is the best of everything and there’s very little of that left.”
– Cecil Beaton
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Cecil Beaton, an English war, portrait and fashion photographer who lived from 1904 to 1980. He was also a costume and stage designer as well as an interior designer and painter. He was born in Hampstead, London. Beaton went to Health Mount School and to St. Cyprian’s School, where he came to recognize his artistic and creative talents. As he was growing up, Beaton practiced photography on his Nanny’s old camera, Kodak 3A. His Nanny educated him about basic photography and how to develop a film. He used to request his mother and sisters to pose for him so he could practice his skills. Once he became adequately adroit, he sent his images to society publications frequently with a pen name. At St. John’s College, Beaton studied architecture, art and history. While all this was going on, Beaton continued photographing, and with the help of some contacts from his university he got a chance to photograph somebody who resembled Duchess of Malfi which was also then published by Vogue. He did get a degree and while working with his father, he continued photography on weekends. Beaton’s first exhibition took place in London’s Cooling Galleryunder the patronage of Osbert Sitwell. To achieve more success, he went to New York and gradually constructed his reputation. For many years, Beaton worked on a contract to take photographs for Condé Nast Publications. These photos were solely for them and were worth thousands of pounds. During his career, Cecil Beaton used both small Rolleiflex, and large format cameras.
Beaton designed costumes and book jackets for charity while learning photography professionally at Paul Tanqueray’s studio. He then built his personal studio with Stephen Tennant as his initial client. Some photos of Tennant by Beaton represent the Bright Young People of 1920s and 30s in the best way.
In 1931, Beaton did photography for British Vogue when the photographer from Vogue, France – George Hoyningen-Huene went to England. The exchange of ideas between this artist circle gave birth to a new style that made 1930s era popular.
He has worked as a photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair. In addition, he also photographed Hollywood celebrities. Unfortunately, Beaton began using derogatory terms like ‘kike’ next to his photographs illustrating New York City. This act got him fired from American Vogue since it was unacceptable and because of him the issue had to be reprinted.
This episode was highly humiliating for Cecil Beaton and so he went back to England where he was given work at the Ministry of Information on the recommendation of the Queen. At this time, he took pictures of prime minister Winston Churchill. He also photographed Shah Mohammed Raza Pahlevi with Fauzia Faud Chirine and their child, during World War II. At this time, he also shot an image of Eileen Dunne, a German Blitz victim. She was just three years old on the recovering bed in an hospital, hugging her teddy bear. This was his most enduring pictures. Beaton eventually became one of Britain’s top war photographers.
Sometime later, he had a stroke attack that limited his physical flexibilities to work freely and this made him frustrated although he adapted himself to draw, write and hold camera with his left hand. He became worried about his future financial conditions and negotiated with Sotheby’s Philippe Garner who helped him in a way that his work could give him an annual income. In 1977, Beaton’s work was auctioned five times and a last one in 1980, the year he died.
Cecil Beaton won many awards from 1956 to 1972.