On the publication of scrapbooks by legendary photographer and bon vivant Cecil Beaton, fellow nostalgist Charlotte Moss revels in the art of cut and paste
Scrapbooks are diaries of a sort. While I have yet to come across a scrapbook with scandalous confessions or incriminating evidence, a private collection of pictures and ephemera can reveal volumes about the creator’s life.
DEAR DIARY: Cecil Beaton’s scrapbooks were works of art in their own right.
Scrapbooking does not have a reputation as cool, which has always struck me as odd. Few other art forms invite you to employ your taste and wit as you mash up your favorite images and ideas.
It is the most democratic and accessible art, and according to the Craft & Hobby Association, it is the top-selling category in the country’s $27 billion craft and hobby industry. I remember creeping into my grandmother’s attic and finding a trunk with my mother’s scrapbook of valentines. I felt as though I had met my mother in a different time. All of my life, I have created scrapbooks and collected others from inspiring women such as Elsie de Wolfe, Pauline Trigère and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Weighing in at 14 pounds, “Cecil Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook” (Assouline) offers reproductions from the iconic Vogue and Vanity Fair photographer’s personal scrapbooks. It showcases images that Beaton took as well as pictures taken by others that he admired. They’re arranged in idiosyncratic collages and spreads, ironic juxtapositions and “once in a while just a great picture,” New York gallerist James Danziger wrote in his forward to the book. In an interview I asked Mr. Danziger about the collection of images chosen from Beaton’s scrapbooks for this volume. He said they are like a “valentine to a liberal arts education, from Greco-Roman statues to pop stars.”
The pages above feature a montage of Hollywood stars; others show bullfighters and dancers
The photo spreads selected were distilled from approximately 40 scrapbooks and over 8,000 photographs from the Cecil Beaton Archive. Beaton started collecting postcards when he was three years old. Later on, his country house weekends were not complete without a session of “cutting and pasting,” comparing notes and reviewing the pages of a previous weekend’s accomplishment. In his diaries, Beaton describes a scene at Wilsford, the home of his great friend Stephen Tennant. “We looked at scrapbooks of old photographs and [Tennant] rhapsodized suitable texts,” he wrote. These were gatherings one would have paid to observe.
From bullfighters, bodybuilders, dancers, society figures, the Royal family, actors and artists, there is a commonality that struck the book publisher Martine Assouline as she edited the scrapbook pages selected for the book. She described it to me as a “lesson in elegance.”
Some might say the proliferation of digital cameras and the attendant Facebook and Flickr pages have rendered physical scrapbooks less relevant than they used to be. But why not see them as newfangled iterations of an age-old artform? Witness the creativity that users are unleashing on Polyvore, the scrapbook-y fashion website that lets users mix and match pictures of clothing, accessories and arty backgrounds to create one-of-a-kind “sets.”
As in all, endeavors that become systematized, CAVEAT EMPTOR…. Homogeneity lurks. Proceed with caution. Memories are precious; protect them. Personalize them. Be creative, add, subtract, layer, annotate. My favorite quote from David Hockney says it all: “The thing about high tech is that you always end up using scissors.”
Charlotte Moss is a designer based in New York.
Full article and photos: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703326204575616680209182858.html