Beaton at war
For Cecil Beaton architecture was an indisputable player in all his photographs, often much more complex than the subject. It offered a narrative that transports the sitter, or the garments – it is all mise en scène.
He was an official photographer in the North African campaign in WWII, and did a lot of work showing Britain's wartime manufacturing industries – shipyards, mineworkers, the effects of the Blitz, all a far cry from the fey pre-war portraits of society ladies in extravagantly romantic 18th century rooms where he was never against painting more frippery on the walls if it made the setting even complex, more fantastic. I suppose the true complexity and brutality of war knocks some of that fantasy out of one.
These two iconic images are found in every book on Beaton there is. It was startling, in 1941, for Vogue readers to be plunged into the shattered environment in which they were living: fashion magazines were and are for escape. And the 1945 photograph of the Balmain coat and pants could come off the Sartorialist site today – that love of tragic urban street walls, so dark and layered, and the indomitable spirit of the women who can carry their own against them.