About photobooks – old and new.
Title: Cecil Beaton’s New York
Author: Cecil Beaton
Published in 1938, first edition, in yellow cloth, in London by B.T. Batsford and in New York/Philadelphia by J.B. Lippincott Company
Hardcover with illustrated dust jacket, 8vo, 262 pages with 49 photographs by Beaton and 71 photographs by other collaborators.
Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was an eclectic English artist, who worked as a fashion designer, portrait and war photographer, painter, interior designer. He won several Tony and Oscar awards for costume design in the 1950’s.
He lived briefly in New York in the 1930s. During that time he recorded his “impressions of the city”, which he decided to publish in the form of a photobook. The nature of the book was not meant to be an objective and comprehensive description of New York, but rather a catalogue of Beaton’s personal experiences of the city.
Beaton excelled and published several books in the diary genre. That diaristic style is the basis of this photobook, which includes illustrations of Beaton’s preferred places of the city with his own photos and drawings. Some of them are peculiar, illustrating less touristic and glamorous parts of New York, such as dark and desolated streets at night, specific flower and’ wedding dresses boutiques.
In addition to these unknown and intimate places, the book also includes a number of cliche pictures of NYC, apparently at the request of the publisher to please a wider market. The typical and emblematic buildings of the city, such as the Empire State, Chrysler building, and Grand Central, among others, are also included. Typical Harlem and Broadway scenes are also part of the list.
Overall, this photobook, wrapped in a beautiful dust jacket, is not groundbreaking in the genre, but comparing with more traditional guidebooks of NYC, it does innovate by bringing a more personal perspective.