World War II knocked Cecil Beaton from his orbit as a Bright Young Thing. He developed a new seriousness as an adjunct of Britain’s Ministry of Information. Traveling the world in that capacity, he wrote about it in Near East, An Indian Album, Chinese Diary and Album, and Far East. In this passage from Near East, he laments the “telegraph by numbers” mode by which service members communicated home:
Cheap-rate telegraph messages can be sent by the forces with stock sentences that are picked from millions of former messages. A man by choosing a number can send a suitably composed message. Number 7 is “love and kisses,” or number 10 is “sorry to tell you … died.” Happier ones are “glad to hear of your promotion,” or “thinking of you especially at this time.” From a realistic point of view this economical service is effective and helpful, but there is something tragic about the formality of messages “ready-made” for all emotions, from celebration to despair, and which can in a few words express all that most people are able to convey to one another.
Nick Harvill Libraries is currently offering for sale the copy of Near East Beaton inscribed to fellow photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Check out the product listing here.
Image Credit: Near East
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