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Thursday, 27 August 2009



File:Rose champagne infinite bubbles.jpg

Rex Whistler -- or is it Joe Isuzu? -- stretches
out half naked on a rock and pretends
to be a river god, while Sylvia Plath -- or is
that Edith Sitwell down there among the ceramic cherubs? --
lies down on the floor and pretends to be dead.
That's Society. "Reality" is an unmade bed
full of champagne. "I was the first (burp)
to interject my own persona between the lens
and the frilly circus ladies of the human psyche."

A smart model in a Digby Morton suit steps
confidently through the rubble of the Blitz.
That's Society, "her poise unshaken." Hearts
of movie stars and duchesses expand life-jacket style,
Marilyn Monroe's nerves are refused entry to the studio,
and the royal family, from the Super Mum herself
down to Snowdon, Lichfield and Andrew,
parade around in cloud cuckoo land in funny hats
while Douglas Fairbanks falls out of filigree windows
and persuades Mountbatten to play Lear in mid air.

Now Mountbatten too is falling falling,
gazing up at their reflections in the mirrored Star Ceiling
Mickey Mouse as the Sheik of Araby
alongside Madame Pompadour as Cassandra
are spinning and flailing, tumbling through space,
berserk boxers doing a minuet in weightlessness,
yet the polystyrene suspension net
slung underneath the scene by Cecil Beaton
somehow makes it all make sense though not really.

File:Rose Champagne Bubbles.jpg

Rose champagne infinite bubbles: photo by Gaetan Lee, 2006
Rose champagne bubbles: photo by Gaetan Lee, 2007


Anonymous said...

What a topic! Society, the end of naturally instinctive primitive man... or is it?

TC said...


Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was a British photographer, stage and costume designer, best known for his fashion photos and society portraits. Son of a timber merchant, he left Cambridge without taking a degree, worked for Vanity Fair and Vogue and was then instrumental in creating the "look" of Thirties high style. He photographed Hollywood celebrities, thus enhancing if not creating their fame. He frequently photographed the Royal Family, again famously; once, after a successful shoot of the Queen Mother (one of his pet subjects), he is said to have pocketed her hanky as a keepsake.

During World War II he was posted to the Ministry of Information and took many well known pictures of victims of the Blitz in London. After the war he worked largely in the US, designing Broadway theatrical and opera stage sets, costumes and lighting.

The poem is a sort of delirious phantasmagoric hallucinated mirage of the world of Society as photographed by Cecil Beaton. It is perhaps now a gone world.

Zephirine said...

There's a rather bitchy but still good blog article about Beaton here with some fine photographs.

It is certainly a gone world, surviving only in art and artefacts and memoirs, that 1930s mix of the aristocratic, the elegant, the flamboyantly homosexual, those with 'a talent to amuse' and some with great original talents too.

A lovely summing-up of it, Tom, there are many photographs that could have gone with this poem but the champagne is best!

TC said...


Wonderful Beaton article, I hope everyone will take a look. It may almost cause the poem to "make sense" (?). But of course, not really...

I particularly liked this bit:

"His studio was kept busy working on the photographic plates – lifting droopy eyelids, tightening sagging jaws and whittling down figures until they looked like those of girls. And none of his sitters ever complained, any more than the men who paid the bills. And why should they? Beaton was a very clever photographer whose early portraits reflected continental art movements in his use of mirrors, torn paper, fragments of classical sculpture and even Cellophane to create a surreal fantasy that would automatically make his sitters look much more interesting than they usually were. They were as flattered culturally as they were physically, even if they had no idea that the original ideas were taken from the work of Cocteau, Bakst or Dalí."

In the arrogance of our Virtual Reality Age it's universally said the premier fabricator of fashion photographs is Pascal Dangin, who works with banks of computer modulation and enhancement tools. Next to Beaton's glamour creations, Dangin's computer retouching jobs--photoshop, digital fidgeting, etc.--resemble the productions of a smart child who got some neat toys for Christmas. But it's a universe of nothing but pixels these days. Forget the borrowing of original ideas from art. (What original ideas? What art?)

Here is a New Yorker profile on Dangin:

Le Dieu Contemporaine de Pixellization