The Fantastic World of Cecil Beaton

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Who doesn't love Mae West? Photo: Courtesy Assouline

In the new photography book Cecil Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook, there's a black-and-white snapshot, dating to the fifties, of two men playing backgammon outdoors. It's clearly winter, and both are wearing well-cut, fur-collared coats — because, of course, if one is going to play backgammon outdoors in the winter, one ought to dress for it. The photo is simultaneously funny, glamorous, casual, and intriguing — in other words, essentially Beaton.

Beaton captured potent images for a living, getting everyone from the young Queen Elizabeth to the young Mick Jagger in front of his camera, but the new book, edited by James Danziger and published by Assouline, tracks the daily life of the mind behind those portraits. Beaton gathered like a proto-blogger, voraciously cutting and pasting and giving equal consideration to every image that caught his eye, from Roman statues to wartime newspaper reports to every possible angle of his obsession, Greta Garbo.