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Feature: Double Exposure


Cecil Beaton may be best known for his society portraits, but like Bill Brandt and Robert Capa, some of his most powerful photography was taken during the Second World War.

Portrait of a soldier sitting with water cans, Western Desert, 1942. Courtesy IWM.

By Bella Bathurst

At the outbreak of war in 1939, the British establishment mistrusted photography almost as much as they mistrusted Nazis.  “Snappers” were seen as vulgar and intrusive, and though the military benefits of the medium had already been proven during the First World War the armed services did their very best to avoid any connection with it.  Their enemy had no such qualms: when war broke out, all professional German photographers were conscripted into a specialized unit known as the PK (Propaganda Kompanien) and instructed to “influence the course of the war by psychological control of the mood at home, abroad, at the Front and in enemy territory.”  Those who did not – who failed to produce patriotic or compelling images, or who refused to shoot certain subjects – were reassigned to the Russian Front.

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