Photography: Cecil Beaton and Man Ray

London vs. Paris during the post-war period

In the 1920s Paris was the nexus of the Jazz Age, a metropolis inhabited by a Lost Generation of expatriates flooding the City of Light in search of freedom, hedonism, and a quest for the avant-garde. The post-war period was a new age not only in history but also in cultural life. For instance, there appeared some new movements and styles in art, which were inspired by the preceding belligerent spirit of war. Paris, the cultural center of Europe, was a place where Dadaism and surrealism were developed and realized. These two movements rejected the standards and limits of traditional art; they rebelled against the formality of art. Dadaism, for example, was sometimes called the “anti-art” style. Dadaists were cynical and ironical about humanity in general, and these moods were expressed through the works of contemporary artists. Surrealism also denied the previous forms of art; its presenters tried to show reality as a collage of different objects. Indisputably, the new artistic styles meant not just a new way of writing or drawing, but a new way of life. With the emerging of new styles, a new philosophy and way of thinking was introduced, which later influenced the consciousness of Europe and of the whole world.

At the same time, in contrast with Paris, another cultural capital of Europe, London, awoke from the nightmare of the “war to end all wars” not as a beacon to the bohemian hoards but rather to a new breed of its own young people casting off the restraints of the Edwardian Era. Even though both countries faced the same historical events and had to renew in the conditions of post-war settings, the situation in the sphere of culture was rather different. While the collective cultural ethos allowed for a longing to look back across the great abyss at a golden age when the “sun never set on the British Empire” with its attendant decorum, civility, and cast iron social strictures, Britain’s youth found the vision increasingly anachronistic. Too young to have fought in the Great War they had still endured unprecedented privation and casualties at home. In addition, taking into consideration the fact that the youth had just witnessed a generation of young men slaughtering at the Somme, it becomes clear why they rapidly took to indulging in drug and alcohol-fueled bacchanalian revelry. In a seemingly collective urge to negate the rigid mores of their parents—the generation which had brought about the war—these “doomed youth,” with their inevitable survivors’ guilt sought comfort in irreverent acts of rebellion. Further incited by elements of a new mass media, which simultaneously decried the injustice of class division while glamorizing the exploits of the youthful elite, these “Bright Young Things,” as they came to be called, regarded themselves as setting new fashions in dress, music, behavior, and style. Not only was this cultural hothouse a fertile milieu for writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, and Noel Coward, it was also the breeding ground for the careers of half a dozen leading figures in theatre, dance, and the visual arts.

Beaton’s creativity and technique

Among the number of inspired young people, there were a lot of artists, who were keen on showing their talents and leading bohemian life. However, not many of them managed to do this. Thus, in the Bright Young Things, through pluck and self-promotion, the photographer Cecil Beaton emerged. He had a parvenu’s lust for the vicissitudes of his more entitled peers; furthermore, he definitely had an artist’s unerring eye for the tribal totems of his generation. This generation with its ideas and a new way of life obviously influenced, if not formed, Beaton’s style. Amidst the swirl of pseudo informality, popular slang, and ever-changing allegiances and allies, Beaton established a career as a social arbiter and chronicler of the golden hoards. Ironically, the photograph which would launch Beaton’s trajectory into the glamorous milieu he so desperately sought was not glamorous at all. Devoid of wit or satire, redolent of pedestrian posturing, Beaton’s photograph of George “Dadie” Rylands dressed as the Duchess of Malfi for a Cambridge theatrical production, was mundane rather than memorable, gaudy rather than groundbreaking.

Beaton’s devotion to the photographic image since childhood led to his propensity for collecting photos and postcards. They were a common form of publicity at that time and therefore were accessible to the general public. Thus, in Beaton’s personal collection there are photos of the greatest stage and stars of the time, including not only Elsie but Gertie Millar, Florence Smithson, and Gaby Deslys. Beaton carefully organized them in scrapbooks and albums. Here they could be “revered almost as a Proustian keepsake, as a magical souvenir snatched from mass culture…” Beaton, who would prove himself a lifelong diarist elicited an inclination to “preserve the fleeting moment like a fly in amber,” a distinction that also informed his love of photography and its power to capture the essence of an era. His private collection of postcards formed his view of conventional beauty; the classical motives with the best traditions of portrait photography will be present in all of his further works.

Beaton had not initially set out to be a photographer: his real passion was theater and he envisioned himself as either an actor or a playwright. When attempts at both failed to ensure an income Cecil resolved—much as Man Ray did— to take photographs in order to clear his debts, musing that “I did not just want to take photographs which would be a petty waste of time. But where will I get the money to start an establishment where I turn out theatrical designs, paint, and take photographs—all at the same time?” Later he would write, “At no stage in my …career would I have believed that photography could be my life’s work….”

Such way of thinking suggests that Beaton was one of the dandies of his time. The artist strongly denied the bourgeois values; however, he also did not accept the bohemian style of living. Beaton seeks for the life which is unlimited neither by prejudicial thinking, nor by material state. Being a dandy and having enormous ambitions, Beaton managed to achieve the world’s admission.

From the very beginning of his oeuvre as a photographer, Beaton had an outstanding style, which made him distinct among the other photographers. Making portraits of both casual and public people, Beaton tried not only to show the real character of his models, but compound it with an imaginary picture he had for them. What is more, the photographer clearly understood the difference between the true reality and the artistic reality. The artistic reality suggested that the photographer did not only capture life; he had a chance to take part in its creation. Beaton chose the things he would like to highlight and moments that could be omitted; not only did he snap beautiful people, but helped the people become beautiful with his photography. Innocent or seducing, brutal or soft, traditional or exotic, but it was only beauty that he showed through his works.

The works of the photographer have also some other peculiarities which make them very special comparing to the thousands of others. The artistic movements, which appeared in Europe at the time of Beaton’s creative life undoubtedly, had an impact on his style. Despite the fact that the artist had a flare for presenting the traditional photography, he also combined it with the new ideas, which meant the denial of old methods. This combination led to the creation of works which even now are unlike anything. Beaton used a lot of materials for the setting; torn paper, mirrors, buckram; unexpected settings such as a model standing on a trumeau created the effect of unforgettably original works.

Beaton’s feminine “other”

Beaton’s affinity for the power of the camera to bestow whatever illusion his fertile mind could lavish on the object of his lens, was not the result of a high-brow, intellectual, psychoanalytic adult mind. Rather—as Beaton himself would relate in his diaries and in personal interviews—he was in thrall with the worlds of high society, theatre and glamour, from a very young age and it was through the idiom of photography and the capacity of photographs and publicity to shape and create a persona that Beaton was able to realize his aspirations. As a child Beaton eschewed wooden horses and toy soldiers in favor of photographic postcards of English musical comedy actresses, such as Lily Elsie, an image that “caused my heart to leap,” and which initiated a lasting dedication “to a precious object of desire which must be glorified, protected and collected.”10With her swan-like neck, rouge tinted cheeks and lips, and lustrous curls; Elsie was the spark that ignited Beaton’s life-long passion for theatre and the photographic image. As Garner adds, “thus [with Lily Elsie] were ideas of fashion, theatre and female beauty forever allied in the high-keyed imagination of the precocious Beaton.”

That Beaton should be enthralled with the feminine “other” is evident also from this earliest account of his 3 year old self, whose discovery of the pictorial card was not made in his father’s library smelling of cigar smoke and tweeds but rather “in my mother’s large bed”… where “I was allowed to…nestle close to her while she sipped an early morning cup of tea and opened her letters.” As Wendy Lesser comments in His

Other Half: Men Looking at Women Through Art, “The anecdote so perfectly encapsulates Beaton’s obsessions—photography as stemming from the mother and the actress, woman as source of emotional sustenance and woman as pure artifice…” p.165. Later Beaton himself would recall his father taking photographs with a large still camera activated by squeezing a rubber ball attached to it by “an umbilical cord”[from The Best of Beaton: under “First Stages”] but that it was in fact his sisters’ nanny, Alice Collard, whose enthusiastic use of a simple Box Brownie camera ignited his curiosity and passion for the photographic image. Beaton’s use of the term “umbilical cord” not only infantilizes the father but attributes maternal qualities to him as well while concomitantly assigning a female servant as catalyst for a life long obsession and firmly grounding woman as mentor and muse.

Homosexuality as a part of the culture

In political and intellectual terms Paris in the 1920s was a guiding light of philosophy and free expression. In cultural terms the city represented the ne plus ultra in art and modernity. In terms of human sexuality its Anglophone nickname “gay Paree” was coined in response to the city’s fabled notoriety for hedonism and frivolity and its open acceptance of homosexuality in all its permutations. In contrast, London was much more conservative in this sphere. For the British, homosexuality was a more convoluted proposition, an enterprise more ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ than actually condoned, particularly as the persuasion was literally a crime. Furthermore, such attitude towards sexual relationships not only existed on the individual level, but also was supported by the law. In 1885 the British Parliament passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act that raised the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16, strengthened existing legislation against prostitution and forbade all homosexual relations, punishable by imprisonment, this last edict made rather illogical in light of the custom of sending children, especially boys, away to same sex boarding schools at a very early and impressionable age. While experimentation may have been an unspoken norm, open homosexuality was still censored. While Oscar Wilde was the most famous victim of this prosecution — his trial in 1895 was a scene of public hysteria — English writer Quintin Crisp cultivated his eccentric appearance and overtly effeminate appearance to a level that both outraged English society and provoked homophobic assaults. For the conservative Beatons, discovering that the eldest of their four children was a very unusual boy must have come as a shock: “My father kept asking me awful questions about Cambridge, [about sports and clubs]…questions that were impossible to answer (as)… I am interested only in art, society, and the theatre.”

The issue of masculinity was one of the key moments in Beaton’s life and creative activity. The perception of the world, as well as its reproduction, was based on the mixed feelings of the photographer. Being a homosexual, Beaton still had relationships with several women. Therefore, it can be said that the artist has strong feminine and masculine roots. His vision of both genders and their attractiveness were objective, as Beaton could have fallen in love both with a woman and with a man, which made him very sensuous about the both kinds of beauty.

Photography of Rynalds

Despite the fact that Beaton’s family was comfortable financially and therefore able to provide their son the best education — Heath Mount, Harrow, and Cambridge — Cecil felt that he had been born into a station in life lower than his expectations. As Hugo Vickers writes in his introduction to the Beaton authorized biography, “It interested me to know how a boy born in a middle-class Hampstead family had turned himself into Cecil Beaton. He was that very rare creature — a total self-creation.” This feeling of wanting to be amongst the high born and the influential put Beaton on a lifelong path as a self-promoter who sought to “enter,” as Mellor explains, “that ornamented scene of ‘Beauty’, a confined and much-photographed world like that glimpsed in his mother’s bed, a world of pictures into which he could be inserted and in which he could see himself.”

When Beaton arrived at Cambridge on 4 October 1922, it was his “prime ambition to join the ADC [Amateur Dramatic Club] and Marlowe Society and work really hard on a play, acting, designing and even conducting rehearsals.” As university theatrical productions during the 1920s were reserved solely for men, Beaton had high hopes of landing the title role in John Webster’s macabre play, The Duchess of Malfi, staged during the spring term of 1924 by the Marlowe Society, a dramatic company aligned with King’s College. This tragic play by John Webster is a story which is based on real events. It has a very exciting plot with the stories of love and violence; therefore, a very skillful and talented actor is needed for the main part. This play was a real chance for Beaton to show his actors potential and satisfy his need for theatricality, as the play is very emotional.

However the role, so much desired by Beaton, instead was given to fellow Cambridge undergraduate and thespian, George “Dadie” Rylands, and Cecil initially took his revenge by publishing a snide caricature of Rylands in Granta, a periodical founded in 1889 of student politics, playful repartee, and academic literary enterprise, named after the river that runs through the town.

As a mentor to the slightly younger Beaton, George Humphrey Wolferstan Rylands (1902-1999), two years Beaton’s senior, was well suited for the role. A fellow of King’s College, Cambridge for seventy-two years, Rylands became one of England’s most distinguished Shakespearean scholars, as well as Chairman of the Cambridge Arts Theatre from 1946 to 1982. His university rooms were even used as the basis for Virginia Woolf’s novel, A Room of One’s Own (1929). Yet, Beaton’s feelings towards Rylands during his years at Cambridge were of contempt rather than respect, a sentiment he attributed to jealousy years later.

Beaton’s ire at losing the role to Rylands was short lived as his desire to advance himself took precedence. Beaton managed to arrange a portrait sitting of the Duchess, a.k.a. Rylands, and as Beaton recalled nearly sixty years later, “Dadie was, with his pale blue eyes, blue tie, pink and white complexion and canary quiff of hair, a spectacular figure…and he became the Duchess of Malfi in a production that I should have graced if only I had not been so tiresome and difficult. Truth was Dadie was the best Duchess of Malfi I had seen out of at least a dozen. He was like a unicorn, neither male nor female, dignified, rare.”

Interestingly, years later, in January of 1956 Rylands wrote Beaton, addressing him as “my dear Cecil,” in a “passionate plea to help save the ADC.” In his letter Ryland describes the theatre Club as being of “immense educational value” and expresses his desire to appeal to those “who will remember the hours spent in the Club as some of the happiest of their undergraduate days…” In closing Ryland’s notes that he hesitates to “apply to the so-called rich—the stars—because it seems to me they can never catch up on their surtax.”

The image of Rynalds, a “slightly out-of-focus snapshot of the Duchess of Malfi… standing in the subaqueous light outside the men’s lavatory of the ADC Theatre in Cambridge,” was, thanks to Rylands, brought to the attention of British Vogue’s then editor and Bloomsbury-biased Dorothy Todd. Under Todd’s editorship Vogue changed from just any other fashion publication to the pre-eminent guide to fashion and modern art with names like Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf and Raymond Mortimer printed on its pages. According to Beaton, “It was a great day when Miss Todd accepted my picture and wrote that she felt I had the makings of quite a good photographer.” Beaton’s snapshot of Rylands became his first ever credited photograph and piece of published work to appear in Vogue for which he was awarded the handsome sum of thirty shillings.

The photography of Rynald’s was one of the cases when Beaton wanted to realize his theatrical talent. However, masking and cross-dressing may have imposed a lot of suspicions due to Beaton’s sexual orientation. Therefore, not everyone could understand the artist’s idea about the portrait. The trickery he used in his work was of a special nature. He did love Rylands with the love of a friend; however, the idea of the photo could still have been misunderstood. Rylands was a man, which proved the high possibility of him to be attractive to Beaton. On the other hand, he was dressed as a woman, which made him practically uninteresting for the photographer. This application of masks made the photography a subject for many discussions. It is obvious and amazing how good Beaton was at adding a little bit of theatricality in everything he did; the humor which he had in his works makes them light-hearted and sensible.

In a comparative analysis of the Beaton photography of Dadie Rylands with that of Man Ray’s likeness of Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Selavy, issues of societal, generational and class differences, as well as gender identification, are observed. Man Ray was an American who moved to Paris and immersed himself in the bohemian lifestyle of the artist while Duchamp was a French native. Older by thirteen and seventeen years respectively than Beaton, Man Ray and Duchamp were men in their thirties in 1921 when the British Beaton and Rylands were university students at Cambridge. Both Man Ray and Duchamp were deeply involved in the art scene as painters and disciples of the avant-garde while Beaton sought to be a successful playwright and Rylands became a successful literary scholar and theatre director. Both Beaton and Man Ray initially used photography as a means to a financial end, but ultimately embraced the genre if somewhat reluctantly. Beaton, who was born solidly middle class spent his life striving — and succeeding — to join the upper echelons of society, a milieu Man Ray and Duchamp philosophically decried while concomitantly courting its wealthy patrons. Man Ray’s photograph of Duchamp as Rrose Selavy is a man surreptitiously passing as a woman as an artistic jest, while Rylands portrait as the Duchess of Malfi was initially a publicity shot for a theatrical production. Man Ray’s Rrose photos became iconic of the Dada artistic movement; Rylands image, although published in Vogue, was largely forgotten unless included in a tract on Beaton’s career.

The Parisian “garconne” of Rrose Selavy represented a young rebellious woman. Having an absolutely new style, she wore her hair short and slicked back. Garconnee is costumed in a skirt and suit jacket with a shirt and bow tie underneath. Wilde, unexpected, and still feminine, la garçonne was a symbol of freedom who enjoyed driving, smoking and unfettered sex with both men and women. However, taking into consideration the contrastive social and cultural life of France and Britain in the post-war settings, it should be mentioned that garconne, being so desired for France, was an exotic image for Britain. London was not ready to accept the wilderness and unlimited energy of Parisian garconnes; the city still brought up the benevolent English ladies with excellent manners and aristocratic views. Inspired by the new artistic movements, French artists cultivated the image of gargonne, presenting it as a spirit of freedom and a bit of modern craziness. In contrast, British artists had a completely different view of beauty and virtues.

However, the photography of Rynalds is far not what can be called an example of British beauty with its virtues. Indeed, Beaton is more humorous than serious about this image. Where Duchamp made a passable if not particularly attractive female, Rylands is unabashedly unattractive, unfeminine and detached, and the reality is that the photograph of Dadie Rylands is as absurd as Man Ray’s cross dressing rendition of Marcel Duchamp. The “golden boy”—as Beaton referred to him—is a rather fleshy, distinctly male poseur, his distant gaze a motif recreated in Beaton’s future photographs of Lady Diana Cooper, Anna Mae Wong, Lillian Gish, and Edith Sitwell. Mentioning the cross dressing, we should also outline that for Beaton it was the best method to make not just a setting, but a performance. Cross-dressing was the application of masks, which allowed the photographer realize his immense love to the theater and plays. It was not made with the purpose of presenting the beautiful; it was not even made for entertainment (there was some humorous hint in it though). Beaton used cross-dressing to make his own play. Switching the realities, genders and appearances were the settings in his own theater.

When Man Ray immortalized Duchamp in the female incarnation of Rrose Selavy the modus operandi was most certainly not homoerotic. For the staunchly heterosexual triumvirate of Man Ray, Duchamp and Francis Picabia, cross-dressing was an irreverent wink at the status quo and more a theatrical dressing up than a statement of sexual preference. In Beaton’s 1924 photograph of Rylands, with clasped hands and rapt expression, gazing through a haze of incandescent light, the effect was overtly a portrait to publicize a play, but with subliminal subtleties.

So began Beaton’s prolific career for Vogue—as a fashion photographer, portraitist, illustrator and caricaturist, writer and taste arbiter, and, more importantly for most of a fifty-four year association, an indispensable contributor. As Robin Derrick, the creative director of British Vogue and co-editor of three photography books, including Unseen Vogue: The Secret History Of Fashion Photography, and People in Vogue: A Century of Portrait Photography writes of Beaton, “Of all Vogue discoveries—for the magazine and for the British culture in the twentieth century—Cecil Beaton is by far the most significant… Few careers illustrate the magazine’s capacity for indulgence better than Beaton’s.” In fact, as photographer John Swannell—who had been Beaton’s photo assistant at Vogue in the 1960s—wrote in an article for the Evening Standard, “So rapid was his ascent at Vogue that had his personality not been so capricious and mercurial Beaton might have become editor-in-chief—it was rumored that he had in fact been on the short list of candidates in 1940.”

Beaton’s oeuvre and influences on it

Before the arrival of Beaton fashion magazines, especially Vogue, relied on photographs imported from America in particular the decorative soft focus tableaux made popular by Paris-born photographer Baron de Meyer. These were supplemented with more restrained contributions from the society portraitists of London. Beaton’s great artistic influence throughout his youth was the photographer Baron de Meyer, whose prints seemed “nearer to silver points or engravings… [and] unlike anything I had seen before…[his] subjects elevated to an unreal plane of elegance and perfection…” It was the artificiality of de Meyer’s photographs that Beaton strove desperately to imitate—through his use of artifice, namely mirror— in his early years as a photographer. Wendy Lesser comments on this in her essay “Beaton’s Beauties,” when she states that “The superficial nature of photography was itself the subject of Beaton’s photographs, which in turn became the means of delving behind and beyond the superficial.” More than superficiality, it was the “profil presque perdu” of de Meyer’s subjects that caught Beaton’s eye and which is clearly visible in his photograph of Rylands. De Meyer’s contributions were eventually supplemented in Vogue with more restrained contributions from the society portraitists of London. In Beaton, at last, Vogue had a photographer whom they could call its own. His photographic style was a seamless blend of Edwardian stage portraiture and European avant-gardism that was made British by an almost forensic examination of upper class modes and manners. [Swannell, John. Shooting Stars. The Independent. Feb. 5, 2004]

By documenting the fetes, balls and masquerades of the era in his own column for Vogue “How One Lives From Day to Day,” Beaton became the magazine’s “first star photographer.” His fashion photographs often were shot, not within “the sleek apparatus of the studios, but through the broken windows of abandoned sinister houses and factories,” as Capote has written. With a prophetic eye, Beaton produced photographs “like fever-charts of the future, a prediction of the bombs soon to explode.”

Despite of all his ambitions, Beaton never graduated from Cambridge, having left one year short of a degree. Faced with the perceived horror of having to work in his father’s failing timber business, the artist had to try doing something that could involve him in the world of art. His aim was not only self-realization, but also earning enough to not be disapproved by his father. In these conditions, Beaton began photographing his sisters, Nancy and Baba, and submitting the photographs for publication. On the eve of New Year’s 1926, Beaton saw “an ideal opportunity for publicity” by costuming the sisters for the annual Peter Pan Ball. As they won second and third prize their photographs appeared in all the papers and the three Beaton siblings were a smashing success: ”Everyone was running after us. And who would think how poor we are! We spent our last penny on advertisement.” His studio in Sussex Gardens initially attracted university friends and debutantes, but it was not limited by Beaton’s acquaintances. Through word of mouth, Beaton’s reputation began to grow.

Starting in his teens, Beaton sought to advance himself by sending photographs of himself and his family to newspaper editors under an assumed name. As the ploy occasionally worked to his advantage, Beaton continued the tendency at Cambridge where it was so acute that one of the sections in the Vickers biography is entitled, “Cambridge and the Pursuit of Publicity.”

Beaton’s great breakthrough as a professional photographer came in December, 1926, when the artist photographed Edith Sitwell, daughter of Sir George Sitwell, a prestigious earl. The resultant photographs caused Beaton’s photography to be regarded as the latest sensation. According to Roy Strong, former director of the Nation Portrait Gallery, Beaton’s “sitters were presented as their ideal selves and not as they were or could be at their worst. In that sense Beaton can be placed firmly in the great historical tradition of portraiture that presented the idea of a person rather than their often tawdry reality.”

Among the experiences that influenced Beaton’s works are his trips to India. The exotic nature of the country, unusual and extremely bright images of the country roved a great contrast to the gray and rainy London. Beaton took pictures of the royal Indian families and the British rulers who were in India due to the colonial administration. His photography does not only depict the life in India, but also symbolize the political situation of that time. The somewhat anxious expression of the British government in India signal about the nearing failure of the colonial administration. Furthermore, the impressions about India will be later transferred to Beaton’s photography in Britain: he will use the Indian experience as a part of his photographical theatre.

Mirrors and mirroring

While at Heath Mount Beaton acquired an automatic self-portrait accessory with which he spent hours photographing his own visage, utilizing mirrors “to discover the effects of my own physiognomy when the lights were placed at different vantage points.”, the use of mirrors was most possibly an idea which was inspired by the surrealistic moods of that time. Crossing of the realities, the parallel worlds, the collage of the different dimensions are all the ideas developed by surrealists and realized by Beaton in his photography.

One more curious thing about using mirrors is that this trick is often associated with the psychological concept of mirroring. Being rather subconscious than conscious, this phenomenon is characterized by copying someone’s behavior. Mirroring is explained by the will of an individual to be like someone; for this purpose, people tend to copy someone’s mimics, gestures, posture, etc. When Beaton used mirrors, his models had a chance to place themselves in any way; thus, the mirrors contained the philosophical background: the models could show not as their real face, but show whatever they wanted to look like. The mirror served as a mask, through which the models could express them. Passing as someone else – that is what was the exceptional opportunity that a mirror was giving to the models. Beaton did not mind changing roles and images; he was always for playing.

Another vision of the use of mirrors by Beaton was expressed by David Alan Mellor, who in his essay, “Beaton’s Beauties” associates the young artist’s attraction to the theme of the mirror and its double to that of Narcissus: “Beaton seems to have undertaken to revise portraiture into a kind of comedy of egoism, narcissism and shifting identity… a specular allegory on Beaton’s aspiration to be embedded in ‘the set I must get in with.’” Indeed, following the Freudian concept of Narcissism, we can say that egoism and a will for self-esteem is essential for every individual. In this case, mirror can be helpful; it can encourage one to look into their eyes and be self-centered for a while.

In answer to Baudelaire’s accusation about the evils introduced by Daguerre’s invention of photography, namely: ”From that moment our squalid society rushed, Narcissus to a man, to gaze at its trivial image on a scrap of metal.”, Beaton proposes Oscar Wilde’s epigrammatic answer: “It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.” As Lesser states, “The narcissistic figure is not the photographed creature who appears to look into the mirror, but the spectator – photographer, viewer who searches in that mirror for his or her own image.” Beaton took this abstraction full circle in his own mirrored self portraits in which the mirror gazing photographer and the mirrored subject are one.

Even though there are a lot of discussions around the application of mirrors by the artist, it should be mentioned, that this idea is original and contains a special philosophical sense. Egoistic or not, this trick worked, and this is the main thing about tricks.

Works Cited

Cecil Beaton

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Beaton, Portrait of New York (Batsford Books, first ed, 1938)

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