Influences on Beaton

The most important influence on Beaton's fashion photography was his interest in stage design and theatrical production, in which he was extremely accomplished. He did costume design for the film Gigi and set and costume design for the play and the film My Fair Lady, receiving

Men Fashion 19th Century

Cecil Beaton. Beaton was a writer, artist, actor, and a costume and set designer for ballet and theatre, as well as a renowned self-taught fashion designer. He received two Oscars, one for costume design for the film Gigi, and the second for set and costume design for the play and film My Fair Lady. © John Springer Collection/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Cecil Beaton. Beaton was a writer, artist, actor, and a costume and set designer for ballet and theatre, as well as a renowned self-taught fashion designer. He received two Oscars, one for costume design for the film Gigi, and the second for set and costume design for the play and film My Fair Lady. © John Springer Collection/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

Oscars for both. He also designed for the Metropolitan Opera, the Comédie Française, the Royal Ballet (London), and the American Ballet Theatre. "Completely stage struck" at an early age, he wrote in his Photobiogra-phy that he felt "a keen perverse enjoyment in scrutinizing photographs of stage scenery. The more blatantly these showed the tricks and artifices of the stage, which would never be obvious to a theatre audience, the greater my pleasure" (p. 16). This interest explains some of Beaton's most unusual fashion photographs, which include hanging wires and large sheets of pasted paper as backdrops for high-fashion outfits.

Beaton also had an extensive knowledge of Victorian and Edwardian photography and drew for inspiration on the costume depiction of such nineteenth-century portrait photographers as Camille Silvy and the collaborators D. O. Hill and Robert Adamson. He was also inspired by the soft-focus technique of the photographer E. O. Hoppé, the opalescent lighting of Baron Adolf de Meyer, and conventions of English portraiture and Renaissance painting. Beaton combined these influences with his innate taste for Victorian surface ornamentation and opulent effects, or what the critic Hilton Kramer has termed "extravagant and overripe artifice" (p. 28).

Beaton first traveled to Hollywood in 1931, and the world of tinsel as well as the influence of surrealism he encountered there were well suited to his insatiable taste for the theatrical and exotic. "My first impressions of a film studio were so strange and fantastic that I felt I could never drain their photographic possibilities," he wrote. "The vast sound stages, with the festoons of ropes, chains, and the haphazard impedimenta, were as lofty and awe-inspiring as cathedrals; the element of paradox and surprise was never-ending, and the juxtaposition of objects and people gave me my first glimpse of Surrealism" (Pho-tobiography, p. 61).

Beaton began introducing strong shadows into his work, a motif he may well have borrowed from Hollywood productions. The use of such shadows was popular in movies and advertising photography of the 1930s, so much so that articles such as one entitled "Shadows in Commercial Photography" were devoted to it (Hall-Duncan, p. 61). A famous pair of pendant photographs taken by Beaton in 1935 each shows an elegant model attended by three debonair phantoms created by backlighting three tuxedoed male models against a white muslin screen (Hall-Duncan, pp. 114-115).

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