Cecil Beaton – Theatre of War

After seeing a lot of advertising for the new Cecil Beaton exhibition on at the Imperial War museum I was interested in going to check it out, I had previously visited the museum to see the Don Mccullin Exhibition which I found quite impressive especially due to the depth of information provided about the photographer as well as the images. Not knowing much about Beaton’s work I went to this exhibition only having seen a few images on the museum website, from reading the information on the website I knew that the exhibit covered the work of Cecil Beaton during his time travelling and documenting for the ministry of information beginning in 1940 the work featured covers images from a range of locations such as his time in Europe, North Africa through to Burma and India.

My first thought of the exhibition were much the same as the other exhibitions I had seen in the space,  throughout the exhibition the photographs were presented in varying ways some small prints all the way to prints covering wall to ceiling, for me the choice to display images in this way was key to the success of how the photographs are communicated with the viewers, two such cases were two large light boxes one displayed an image of a bomb damaged church altar and window, the IWM had decided to display this to a life size proportions making the impact of the image far more powerful, on the other hand the majority of photographs were displayed in a very structured way but still engaging because of the need to have to approach the images closely, one such example of this was an image of a young girl who had been hospitalised during an air raid this photograph was displayed much smaller in comparison to some of the prints but in a way this allowed me to look closer and if anything real iterated the fact that the subject in the image was a young child.

One of the main points I was left thinking about after the exhibition was the comparisons i had tried to draw between some photographs with similar subject matter and Beaton’s work, unlike most of the photographers I could recall Beaton’s work seem to be different although I felt from this exhibition that Beaton’s work aimed to communicate the overall idea of observation and documenting the situations in which he found himself but I can not help but feel that a lot of his images were composed by him and the scenes arranged unlike other images of the same style which take a more strictly observational approach. One such image that stuck in my mind is one which was photographed from Beaton’s time in India, the photograph shows a soldier drinking tea next to a tea van wit the logo ” The Soldier Drinks Tea” along the side of the van, to me this is one example of this idea of a structured image unlike a clear documentary stance on the photographs which I have seen before saying all this the exhibition for me had great success displaying the photographs and for someone who is new to Cecil Beaton s work I would definitely recommend it.


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