In artistic terms they were at polar opposites of the photographic spectrum.
The wanton destruction and grim resilience of war is not a subject you would associate with high fashion glamor shots of the rich and beautiful.
But when flamboyant photographer Cecil Beaton was enlisted during the Second World War, his striking collection showed the six-year conflict in a new, more graceful, picturesque light.
The photographer, whose most notable subjects included Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, was commissioned for an altogether grittier photographic project that could be used as propaganda
Moving him away from his usual fare of royalty and fashion models, the Ministry of Information asked Beaton to document Britain’s war effort.
The renowned photographer pictured young men and women in a typically glamorous light, in spite of the ravages, destruction and chaos engulfing Britain in 1940.
Even so, Beaton does tug on the heartstrings in his collection: one of the most memorable images shows wounded three-year-old Eileen Dunne at Great Ormond Street Hospital, in an evocative picture which would later grace the cover of Life magazine in September 1940.
The picture was clearly effective – as it was taken with the aim of generating sympathy for the British and helping sway America into intervening in the war.
She recognized them as being similar in style to the work of Beaton, and confirmed they were his work by matching them to his diary records.
She said: ‘The Ministry was in disarray in those days and the records weren’t kept well.
After ceasing wartime operations, the Ministry of Information deposited Beaton’s war photos with the Imperial War Museum, London.
The photographer was briefly reunited with his vast body of work shortly before his death.
Describing the experience, he wrote in his diary: ‘Yesterday I went to the Imperial War Museum, not my favourite place, to see the collection of photographs that I had taken during the war for the Ministry of Information.
‘It was an extraordinary experience to relive those war years; so much of it had been forgotten, and most of the people are now dead.
‘It was fascinating to see the scenes in old Imperial Simla, the rickshaws drawn by uniformed servants, the grandeur of the houses, the palaces, the bar scenes, the men on leave swigging beer, I had not realised that I had taken so many documentary pictures, some of purely technical interest.
‘Looking at them today, I spotted ideas that are now ‘accepted’, but which, thirty years ago, were before their time. The sheer amount of work I had done confounded me.’
Attribution: Chris Parsons