Surely Cecil Beaton was an exception: there was definitely art in everything he did, but he also had a very special skill, a sort of art in composing perfect images and putting together inspiring scrapbooks.
No wonder then that publishing house Assouline decided to release a volume dedicated to Beaton's wonderful collages.
Introduced by James Danziger, Beaton – The Art of the Scrapbook is a 392-page volume dedicated to a man who was also a chronicler of fashion, style, people and places.
Born in 1904, Beaton often stated his interest in photography began when he was three and saw a photograph of actress Miss Lily Elsie. He was given his first camera when he was 11 and, from then on, he never stopped taking images.
Having learnt to study the effects of light on his own face thanks to a device called Automatic Self-Portrait Release and encouraged by Diaghilev’s positive comments about his work, Beaton opened a studio in a former family house in Sussex Gardens where he started getting his first sitters.
He became rather popular and, little by little, his images acquired a refined, elegant and stylish quality about them.
In 1928, Osbert Sitwell wrote in the introduction to the catalogue for the photographer’s first exhibition: “Mr Beaton is now the stern nemesis who transmutes his various sitters into so many flowers, simple or orchidaceous.”
The war gave him the chance of getting a different perspective on life: working for the Ministry of Information Beaton took pictures of ordinary people – the most famous image from this time portrays a young child with a bandaged head and a rag doll sitting in a hospital bed – bombed places and, when he was sent to the Far East, his images became perfect examples of photojournalism.
As a new generation of photographers arrived on the scene, Beaton concentrated on films and costumes, continuously reinventing himself throughout the 60s and the following decades, until he died in 1980.
The scrapbook pages collected in this thick tome are selected from the forty-two volumes owned by the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s in London and are a sort of revised version of the 1937 anthology Cecil Beaton's Scrapbook.
There was no way to arrange the pages in a chronological order since Beaton kept on going back to some of his scrapbooks in different years, adding bits and pieces here and there, so there are no precise dates, though we know that the books were completed between the 30s and the 60s.
As a result the pages are an inspiring orgy of icons and images: there are pictures of Hollywood stars, ballet dancers, paintings and dressmakers embroidering the Queen’s coronation robe and gown; Hitler and Mussolini meet in one pages, geishas in colourful attires appear in another.
Some section display an obsession with Greta Garbo and images of eyes, others are mixes of different pictures from the guests to Beistegui’s ball to the Swiss guards in the Vatican, followed by clowns and gentlemen; Charles Henri Ford in a body suit and flamenco dancers; and Capri in the 60s; Grace Kelly, Picasso and Pavlova; clippings from newspapers; busy streets from a Japanese metropolis, peaceful gardens and ruins à la Piranesi and dinner invitations and Christmas cards from the Royal Family.
From the scrapbook pages it is clear that the artist had in his mind a new kind of aestheticism: he collected images, arranged them in a collage format and manipulated them.
A photographer and innovator, Beaton brought a new style into the art of the scrapbook and, like the final instalment of his diaries published in 2003 was considered a true gem for its witty tone and elegant form, the scrapbooks will prove equally interesting and really compelling for fashion designers, photographers and artists.
This edition also features some wonderful pictures, including portraits of Lucian Freud, Mick Jagger, Audrey Hepburn and Jean Shrimpton, and a poetically elegant image taken in 1948 featuring models wearing Charles James gowns in an 18th century French room.
“I live by my eyes,” Beaton wrote in his diary a year before his stroke and this volume really proves that the dandy photographer truly did so, always managing to inject in his work an amazing energy and vitality that turned into the inspiring force for many generations of artists who followed him.
Beaton – The Art of the Scrapbook will be out in November 2010.