Biography of Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)

British photographer, born in London on January 14, 1904 and died in London on 18 January 1980.


Stylized "Reporter" of fashion, people and environments, the interest of Beaton photography awoke at three years of age when, following the directions of his nanny, amateur photographer, started taking pictures to her sisters. He soon showed predilection by sophisticated portraits forging his aesthetic sense in the ornate, refined and "glamorous" environments of British high society.

The sumptuous attraction led him to an elitist conception of photography which provided a special magic and an exquisite taste in a brilliant work that combines a fragile and seductive world with a skilful handling of the camera: is the "touch Beaton", where the latent unreality of their shots becomes apparent to taking body in rife with images of trickstechnically excellent but in absolute simple exercises in style. He did experiments with light using multiple sources and mirrors as reflectors of the same to get a theatrical environment, it revolutionized photography by inventing new printing techniques as the put a sheet of glass between the negative and paper during exposure or the use of a light filter to media exposure, the appearance of clara influence Pictorialist but especially of the head of this photo current, Barón de Meyer, whom he defined as the "Debussy of the camera". Thrilled with his style and attracted by the splendor of the world of fashion and beauty of high society who portrayed, adopted its bright techniques at the time creating your own style.

He also acknowledged the influence of other photographers as Steichen, in the first years of activity and George Hoyningen-Huene in regards to creating interesting compositions subject to interpretation by the Observer stating that this author had given "a new dimension" to its "office of photographer".

The originality of Beaton already exceeded the influence of his first masters, and this same originality that transformed it into exotic earned him success among personalities of high society that built sumptuous decorations in them which made them pose with elegant and "stuffy" attire reflected in a multitude of specular surfaces. Not interested in individuals or dresses and the aesthetic atmosphere, radiating the general context. It is here where manifested his second great talent of decorator and creator of locker rooms, aspect that received public recognition when years later, in 1957, won his first Oscar for the sets and costumes of Gigi and, in 1964, by the My Fair Lady.

Among the admirers of Beaton was Edna Chase, Director of Vogue American, who offered him to work for the magazine. It was when he moved to the United States and the ladies of New York began to frequent his Studio. He signed a contract with the magazine and carried out a series of elegant fashion photography, at the time working for the fashion, Harper's Bazaar magazine also. This activity continued it until the mid-1950s.During the 1930s he began to investigate the surrealist style and was in Hollywood where he made impressive portraits of film stars using Baroque elements to create surreal atmospheres.

In 1937 he was appointed official photographer of the Royal family and worked as a war photographer for the British Ministry of information during the second world war. These experiences changed the style of his portraits that got the sophistication for the sake of naturalness. Thus, renouncing the frivolous side that had characterized his earlier work became a great reporter of war creating a stunning work, valuable document of the ravages caused by shelling and mirror, black and white, where not already reflected the great palatial lights, but the desperation of a population ravaged by war.

During the first years of the post-war period was bright fashion photography applied to his more initial "Beaton touch", creating subtle images of surreal, exquisite, alluring, but stilted lightness for an era in which his style was already declining. It re-emerged in the 1960s with renewed approaches inspired by a new generation - Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol, Rudolph Nureyev , David Bailey - most avant-garde pretensions which was heading towards the search for new styles.


Fashion of war. London, 1941. White and negroInquietante photography fashion in which the author has chosen the ruins of a building bombed in the war to place your model, dressed in a smart suit, with their backs to the Viewer. Away from the sophistication and the "free" in their usual fashion outlets, this image suggests the chaos of postwar despite its studied composition. The noon daylight hardens contrasts resulting in a picture that seems more a photojournalistic testimony than a sensual photo of fashion style Pictorialist of Baron de Meyer, style that manifests itself frequently in the Beaton fashion outlets.

Charles James evening dresses. New York, 1948. NegroEsta and white Imaging collects each and every one of the characteristics of the "touch Beaton": refined and select atmosphere, elitism, glamour... In shooting, eight models pose with party amidst palatial and ornate costumes. Mirrors serve as reflectors of an apparent natural light coming from the left, through a window, bathing the scene of clarity. It is a photo of a somewhat atypical fashion in the sense that the details of the dresses are lost in a harmonious composition where women speak among them without giving the feeling of pose.

Andy Warhol and companions. New York, distinguished 1969El 'touch Beaton' enters into decline when a new generation jumps to the artistic avant-garde of the London capital. Gone are the aristocrats palaces, silks and satins, impeccable make-up and bodies sculptural, replaced by smaller apartments, leather and cotton, dishevelled hair and a new slogan: freedom. All this is impeccably reflected in this decision where the mirrors are not elegant reflectors, where a woman dares to teach a chest, where the sweetness of the gesture becomes the hardness of expressions. But, between this image and those made previously, not all are differences; the absolute domain of the photographic language - composition, framing, lighting - allows to speak from the same author who knew how to adapt in time the lightness of their "touch" to all social and artistic changes.

In January 2004 the National Portrait Gallery in London organised a Beaton retrospective exhibition on the occasion of the centanario of his birth.


Cecil Beaton completo Diaries: 1922-1929: the wandering years, London, 1961

Cecil Beaton completo Diaries: 1939-1944: the years between, London, 1965

Cecil Beaton completo Diaries: 1944-1948: the happy years. London 1972

Cecil Beaton completo Diaries: 1949-1955: the strenuous years, London 1973

Cecil Beaton completo Diaries: the restless years, London, 1976

Cecil Beaton completo Diaries: the parting years, London, 1978

Danzinger, James. Beaton. London, 1980

Buckland, Gail, Quennell, Peter. Beaton photograps 1939-45 war. London, 1981