The “contact sheet, a direct print of a roll or sequence of negatives, is the photographers’ first look at what he or she captured on film, and provides a uniquely intimate glimpse into their working process. It records each step along the route to arriving at an image– providing a behind-the-scenes sense of walking alongside the photographer and seeing through their eyes…
“The contact sheet, now rendered obsolete by digital photography, embodies much of the appeal of photography itself: the sense of time unfolding, a durable trace of movement through space, an apparent authentication of photography’s claims to transparent representation of reality.” –Kristen Lubben, Magnus Contact Sheets
CONTACT SHEET OF THIRTEEN PHOTOGRAPHS FROM CECIL BEATON’S ICONIC 1956 PHOTOSHOOT WITH MARILYN MONROE. With annotations by Beaton in white ink above the images, and his stamp on the back. Likely unique.
“She romps, she squeals with delight, she leaps on the sofa.…It is an artless, impromptu, high-spirited, infectiously gay performance. It will probably end in tears” Cecil Beaton presciently concluded in his diary after photographing Marilyn Monroe in 1956.
Beaton (British, 1904 -1980) was primarily known for having photographed virtually every prominent person in public life over the course of his long career. Everyone from the Queen to the Rolling Stones sat before his lens: authors, dancers, actors, poets, directors, musicians, world leaders, generals, statesmen, as well as iconic figures in the world of fashion and high life. As an arbiter of glamor, the opportunity to sit for Beaton represented the pinnacle of success for many.
While Beaton clicked away with his camera, he also talked. He questioned his sitters and afterwards he frequently sat down and recorded his observations. Sometimes he wrote profiles to accompany the images, sometimes he jotted down notes for his own reference, and sometimes he wrote entries in the diaries he kept between 1922 and 1980, which is what he did after his one and only photo shoot with Marilyn Monroe (American, 1926 - 1962) in February, 1956.
By then Marilyn had starred in numerous films such as The Seven Year Itch; had founded her own production company, essentially securing unprecedented creative control of future films, and was planning to marry American playwright Arthur Miller. The photoshoot took place at New York’s Ambassador Hotel, where Beaton was staying while in town for the premier of My Fair Lady, for which he had designed the show-stopping sets. Marilyn flounced into Beaton’s suite a full ninety minutes late and Beaton spent the next forty-five minutes or so chasing her around his hotel room running off three sheets of contacts. The ensuing photographs of Marilyn include some of the most enduring images of the actress. They capture her genius for transforming herself, quick as a flash, from a pin-up girl to an overexcited child. Writing in his diary Beaton recognized that while it was likely “press agentry or manufactured illusion”’ that had helped her find success, it was "her own weird genius that [had] sustained her flight".
This contact sheet is one of the three different sheets Beaton mentions producing during the shoot. It is likely a unique example of this sheet.
Provenance: Christie's 30 April 1997, Lot 204.
Size = 10x12 in (sheet); framed to 16x20 in. New York: 1956. Silver gelatin contact prints from thirteen negatives. With Beaton’s annotations in white ink on recto and his stamp on verso. A few creases, noticeable mainly in raking light; overall in outstanding condition for a contact sheet; handsomely framed.
Vickers, Hugo, ed. Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles. London: Frances Lincoln, 2017. P 8.
Price: $12,500 .