Angus McBean

Angus McBean's portrait of Audrey Hepburn
Angus McBean (June 8, 1904 – June 9, 1990), was a Welsh photographer, associated with surrealism.

McBean was born in Newport, Monmouthshire. He became one of the most significant portrait photographers of the 20th century from 1936, and was known as a photographer of celebrities. In the Spring of 1942 his career was temporarily ruined when he was arrested in Bath for (the then) criminal acts of homosexuality. He was sentenced to four years in prison and was released in the autumn of 1944. After the war he was able to successfully resume his career.

There were in effect two periods to McBeans career, his pre and post war phases. Pre war he was a lot more confident in himself and experimented successfully with surrealism, indeed his work with the likes of Vivian Leigh are some of the most accessible surrealist photographic images known. Post war he reverted to a more regular style of portraiture photography, nearly always working with the entertainment and theatre profession. Yet his mastery of photography and his careful use of lighting, shallow depth of field and hard focus gave his work a level of quality that is near unique.

Two figures have occluded McBean from gaining the full fame he deserves – the first being Cecil Beaton, who’s lavish lifestyle and work for Vogue and the British Royal Family provides at times more credit to his work than it may deserve. And secondly that of David Bailey who though coming much later (1960’s) was also close to Cecil Beaton both personally and in terms of style. Bailey is an iconic figure in the world of fashion photography just as was Beaton before him – McBean sadly did not enjoy this level of fame either in his life or after death, even though he was arguably the better technically and artistically. Additionally McBean’s focus on the world of theatre (particularly London’s West End) did not give him the international recognition that he probably deserved.

His work includes being the photographer for The Beatles’ first album, surrealist work as well as classic photographs of individuals such as Agatha Christie, Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn, Ivor Novello and Noel Coward. Both periods or his work (pre and post war) are now eagerly sought by collectors and his work sits in many major collections around the world.

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