Works by the famed fashion and war photographer arrive for the first time in the UAE to celebrate the 90th anniversary of his first exhibition in London
Have you ever wondered what it feels like to walk among stars that dazzled on the stage and screen before our time? From May 8 to 27, Sotheby’s will be exhibiting portraits from the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive. The fashion and war photographer transferred his private archive to Sotheby’s in 1977, three years before his death. His work is being displayed in Dubai for the very first time, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of his first exhibition, which was held in London.
Beaton’s career changed dramatically over the course of his life, especially after the Second World War. His style changed, becoming less flamboyant and more focused on the subjects themselves. “He really got very serious and saw all these awful things [as he] photographed around the world,” said Joanna Ling, Head of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s. The exhibition walks you through the different phases of his career, from the years he spent trying to establish himself in the field to his post-war years, when he began to realise the superficiality of his earlier work.
Ling suggests that there are many things that people find appealing about Beaton’s work. “I think different photographs appeal to different people. Some of them are very beautiful to look at. I think he has an amazing eye for a good picture. Because he was also a designer and painter, he’s got a very clever idea of how to compose a photograph,” she said.
However, if photography has never been of interest to you, there are other aspects of his work you may appreciate. There is a history that lies within each of his photographs which can be quite overwhelming. Beaton’s archive includes images of actors, artists, musicians, philosophers and others who were influential from the 1920s onwards.
From friendships to political impacts, each image has a story behind it that is just as interesting. The photograph of Stephen Tennant, a member of the Bright Young Things who introduced middle-class Beaton to the world of aristocrats, for example. Or that of Eileen Dunne, the three-year old bandaged child who he photographed during the Second World War. It became one of the most famous wartime images and is said to have had an influence on America’s decision to join the war.