Photographer, designer and artist Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was revered for his fashion photography and shots of socialites and starlets, yet his lesser-known work as a World War II photographer is some of his most powerful.
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In a new exhibition running into 2013, the Imperial War Museum explores the profound impact of the Second World War on Cecil Beaton. Commissioned by the Ministry of Information in 1940, he was the longest serving high-profile photographer to cover the war years. Entitled ‘Theatre of War’, Beaton’s theatrical background resounds in every portrait on show. RAF pilots and WRENS look more like Hollywood starlets than wartime recruits. His subjects aren’t of the Wilfred Owen variety – there’s not a soldier bent double or cursing through sludge in sight. Instead, dashingly handsome captains lounge against bars, lit Lucky Strikes in hand, while glamour-pusses in uniform flash coquettish looks through the lens. Anything but a slave to the ordinary, Beaton’s individual approach set his wartime work apart, shooting his career into the stratosphere. Using diaries and letters revealing snippets of his life, ‘Theatre of War’ travels from the UK to China, Burma and India, discovering a side to Cecil Beaton we never knew.
Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War runs until 1st January 2013.
Text: Emma Cooke
Images courtesy The Imperial War Museum