Cecil Beaton: Theatre of War

Having in mind the brief, the second exhibition I went to was Cecil Beaton’s Theatre of War in the Imperial War Museum of London. First time I heard about Cecil Beaton was in the beginning of the course, but I never looked more into his photographs. This was a chance for me to get to know his work and identify why is he so important.

Theatre of War was more of a retrospective than a particular body of work. The exhibition started with Beaton’s early work, documenting his family posing for him in a theatrical manner. Cecil always had a passion about theatre and was a great influence to him as a photographer.

Cecil started working in magazines as a staff photographer, while he setup his own studio and doing mostly fashion photography. In the late 30’s some of his opinions didn’t have a good impact on the public and he lost his job as a staff photographer.

During the Second World War he was employed by the Ministry of Information to record the images from the home front. During the Blitz Beaton recorded many images and report back to ministry where they fed them to the press. One particular image made people forget about his anti-Semitic views and rebuild his reputation.

From this moment Beaton was photographing for the Ministry of Information and dedicated his career in to them. His style was quite different from other war photographers and this is credited mostly to his passion with theatre.

Although I got familiar with his work I didn’t like the idea of putting together almost 250 photographs in one exhibition. There was too much information for me. I felt that the exhibition was more like propaganda, reflecting on Beaton’s and MoI ways of working. It is known that he didn’t take photographs of any person, but just the beautiful ones.

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