Love, Cecil: A Journey with Cecil Beaton

Over the span of a decades-long career, which saw him take up the roles of Vanity Fair and Vogue photographer, war correspondent and photographer to the British Royal Family, Cecil Beaton (or ‘Fair Cecily’ as Diane Vreeland liked to call him) documented the lives of the famous and the prosaic through his theatrical lens. In Love, Cecil: A Journey with Cecil Beaton, Lisa Immordino Vreeland (Diana’s granddaughter-in-law) offers an evocative portrait of the luminary’s life, covering his influences, inspirations, friends and Hollywood conquests through a cavalcade of photographs, scrapbooks and letters. To mark the publication of her book, Vreeland has selected her favourite pages for V.F., and, below, explains what makes them so unique:

Sailor at the Royal Indian Naval Station, Calcutta, 1944 (featured shot)

Beaton will never be considered a war photographer yet the 7,000 photographs that he took during WWII show a resilience and unique style that was new to war photography. Although the real ravages of the war are not seen through his photos, his sensitive portraits evoke a human side that was also very necessary to communicate during those years. I truly enjoyed the days that I spent at the Imperial War Museum archive on Lambeth Road pouring through their large album of Beaton’s work and fell in love with this photo.

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Cecil Beaton, by George Platt Lynes, ca. 1949

Cecil Beaton and George Platt Lynes worked contemporaneously in New York in the 30s and 40s. They were both self-taught photographers who photographed the creative elite of New York City and Europe, and shared many mutual friends. Platt Lynes, openly homosexual at that time, is most known for his homoerotic nudes yet his portraiture shows a real passion for the world that he was photographing. Here he captures Beaton in a studio in New York.

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Scrapbook Page from the 30s (New York)

During the process of working on the book and the film I was given access to a private collection where six of Beaton’s photo albums have been carefully housed since the late 70s. These albums gave me a glimpse into his private world. Sometimes different years, countries and events were all mixed together yet I had the ability to experience the life that he had created around himself. I loved the energy of this page and just how much New York City gave Beaton an injection of life and creativity.

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David Hockney

David Hockney met Cecil Beaton when he was a young art student at the Royal College of Art in London. Beaton purchased an early painting of his, and because of that Hockney was able to travel to America for the first time. They had an easy friendship and Hockney would often visit him at Reddish. Beaton recalls the lightness with which Hockney had to live his life, “… I find myself completely at ease with him and stimulated by his enthusiasm. For he has the golden quality of being able to enjoy life. He is never blasé, never takes anything for granted. Life is a delightful wonderland for him.”

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Tunisia scrapbook

This photo album page is from a trip to Tunisia that Beaton took with George Hoyningen-Huene in 1931. Although Hoyningen-Huene worked at rival publication Harper’s Bazaar in the 30s, he and Beaton created a close friendship. Huene would open up Beaton’s eyes to photographing environments in a different way when he insisted that Beaton purchase a Rolleiflex. During this trip to Tunisia, Beaton began a lifelong passion of travel photography and always acknowledged Huene’s encouragement to look at landscape in a different manner.

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Love, Cecil: A Journey with Cecil Beaton by Lisa Immordino Vreeland 

Credits: Collection of Michael H. Berkowitz, © George Platt Lynes. Courtesy of the Estate of George Platt Lynes; Collection of Frederick R. Koch; Imperial War Museums, London, © Imperial War Museums (IB 1398); © The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s; from a Private Collection

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