With the current interest in fashion photographer David Bailey it’s easy to overlook¬† Norman Parkinson, one of the preeminent fashion photographers in Great Britain from the late Thirties until his death in 1990.

It wasn’t Bailey but Parkinson who pioneered portrait and fashion photography beyond the stiff formality of Thirties studio shots, and he was instrumental in injecting an easy and casual elegance into fashion images.¬† His photographs of celebrities, artists, actors and the British Royal Family are known throughout the world and have become icons of twentieth century style.

Born in 1913, Norman Parkinson was apprenticed to portrait photographer Speaight and Sons Ltd. but by the age of twenty-one had opened his own studio. He soon began to work for the British edition of Harper’s Bazaar and The Bystander. During the Second World War he served as a reconnaissance photographer over France for the Royal Air Force, and also worked for Vogue documenting the work of the Auxiliary Territorial Service and daily life on his Worcestershire farm.

After the war – he mainly worked for Vogue from 1945 until 1960 –¬† Parkinson was the first to pioneer exotic and outdoor locations, leaving behind the dull and staged studio settings of his predecessors in favour of shots incorporating architecture or far-away places such as India and Haiti. His portraits of Hollywood stars such as Elizabeth Taylor or early shots of the Beatles cemented his status as the go-to portrait photographer of the time.

His career lasted all throughout the Seventies and Eighties, when he continued to push the boundaries and – unlike other great photographers of the Sixties – adapted to capture the spirit and essence of the decades.

Highlights include the year 1975 when he took the official photographs for the Queen Mothers 75th birthday and went on a 7,000 mile journey across the Soviet Union with Jerry Hall as model, having her pose on top of Soviet monuments in a bathing suit and convincing her to smuggle back some of the film.

Parkinson died in 1990 while on assignment in Singapore.


2 Responses

  1. Angela Williams

    What a lovely piece about Parkinson – You may be interested to know about our Norman Parkinson “An Eye For Fashion” Exhibition showing until the 15th April at the new MShed museum in Bristol. Over 60 images from The Angela Williams Archive of Norman Parkinson’s vintage photographs from 1954-1964 depicting the Designers of British Fashion – co-curated with the Museums Costume department. It is a great show – and there are some events relating to the exhibition – through to April.