(From Wikipedia, the free
Angus McBean (June 8,
1904 - June 9, 1990), was a Welsh photographer, associated with
McBean was born in Newbridge, Monmouthshire, the son of a coal mine
surveyor. He bought his first camera - a 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inch autographic
Kodak - and tripod as World War I was ending. Fascinated by the apparently
magical properties of photography, he wanted to be able to take pictures
of people and sold a gold watch left to him by his grandfather to raise
the five pounds necessary for the equipment.
In 1925, after his father's early death, McBean moved with his mother and
younger sister to Acton, London. He worked for Liberty's department store
in the antiques department learning restoration, while his personal life
was spent in photography, mask-making and watching plays in the West End
theatre. In 1932 he left Liberty and grew his distinctive beard to
symbolize the fact that he would never be a wage-slave again. The worked
as a maker of theatrical prop's, including a commission of medieval
scenery for John Gielgud's 1933 production of "Richard of Bordeaux."
McBean's masks became a talking point in social columns, and were much
admired by the leading Bond Street photographer Hugh Cecil. Cecil offered
McBean an assistant's post at his Mayfair studio, and having learnt the
secrets of Cecil's softer style and after using the studio at night,
McBean set up his own studio 18months later in a basement in Belgrave
Road, Victoria, London.
The artist McBean as he was still known as a mask maker, gained a
commission in 1936 from Ivor Novello for masks for his play "The Happy
Hypocrite." Novello was so impressed with McBean's romantic photographs
that he commissioned him to take a set of production photographs as well,
including young actress Vivien Leigh. The results, taken on stage with
McBean's idiosyncratic lighting, instantly replaced the set already made
by the long-established but stolid Stage Photo Company. McBean had a new
career and a photographic leading lady: he was to photograph Vivien Leigh
on stage and in the studio for almost every performance she gave until her
death thirty years later.
McBean resultantly became one of the most significant portrait
photographers of the 20th century, 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 criminal acts of homosexuality. He was
sentenced to four years in prison and was released in the autumn of 1944.
After the Second World War, McBean was able to successfully resume his
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
In 1945, not sure whether he would find work again, McBean set up a new
studio in a bomb-damaged building in Endell Street, Covent Garden. He sold
his Soho camera for £35, and bought a new half-plate Kodak View monorail
camera to which he attached his trusted Zeiss lenses. McBean was
commissioned first by the Stratford Memorial Theatre to photograph a
production of "Anthony and Cleopatra", and all his former clients quickly
returned. Through the late 1940s and 50s he was the official photographer
at Stratford, the Royal Opera House, Sadlers Wells, Glyndebourne, the Old
Vic and at all the productions of H.M. Tennent, servicing the theatrical,
musical and ballet star system. Magazines such as the Daily Sketch and
Tatler vied to commission McBean's new series of surreal portraits.
McBean's later works included being the photographer for The Beatles'
first album, surrealist work as well as classic photographs of individuals
such as Agatha Christie, Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Olivier 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.