This is the first review to go live on this blog in over a month, and what better way to blow away the fashion fatigue cobwebs than flick through the reissued Vogue portfolio of iconic photographer, illustrator and raconteur Cecil Beaton?
In a career spanning five decades, Beaton came to be more than just a society photographer. Known for his relentless social climbing skills and ambition and, to a lesser extent, his devastating personal critiques, this book paints a picture of the professional traveller and journalist, with precious few glimpses into his personal life. In his tenure with Vogue, Beaton amassed an astonishing body of work, a sampling of which is lovingly showcased in a lavish and tactile paperback (don’t you love when books use more than one type of paper? Books – 1, Kindle – nada).
The book is split into several sections, dealing with society, royalty, travel, war, celebrity and fashion. Essays are grouped together on matt cream paper, while Beaton’s whimsical doodles of heavy-lidded doyennes and waltzing couples cavort in the margins. As a writer, Beaton is acutely observational. Unexpectedly, this is most obvious in his war reportage, which captures the small things that personalise an otherwise homogenous mass of people fighting for a common cause.
The photography is an eclectic mix; Coco Chanel rubs shoulders with Loelia Ponsonby, the first wife of her lover, the Duke of Westminister. Gertrude Stein, Mae West, Queen Elizabeth and Marissa Berenson all occupy the pages with ease.
There is little of Beaton’s work post-1960 on show, and the photographs lack the elegance, stillness and perfection of his earlier work. Perhaps Beaton’s heart was no longer in fashion photography. Perhaps technology had overtaken his preferred method of taking photos. The harsh lighting, cold exposure and permawaved 70′s models do his style no favours. However, the last portfolio of his world travels, some from the later period of his life, all display the vitality and vision of his earlier fashion work.
If you don’t know much about Cecil Beaton’s work, then this is the best place to start. A must for vintage photography lovers and magazine fiends alike – just don’t expect a scandalous biography.
‘Beaton In Vogue’ is edited by Josephine Ross and published by Thames and Hudson.