Though Norman Parkinson may not be a household name with the current crowd of fashionistas, he certainly should be. Chances are you have seen his photos without knowing it; his career lasted 56 years and he shot some of the most iconic faces in history including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Montgomery Clift. His images have graced the covers of magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and mark an important turn in the world of fashion photography.
In Norman Parkinson: A Very British Glamour (Rizzoli 2009), author Louise Baring describes how Parkinson changed the game by taking models out of the staid, stuffy atmosphere of the studio and putting them in the great outdoors, shooting them in natural light and a more natural habitat. The outstanding thing about his images, aside from the incredible beauty of both the models and the clothes (including Yves Saint Laurent's first collection for Christian Dior, coats by Nina Ricci and Balmain, and Manolo Blahnik sandals circa 1975) is the cheekiness they capture. Each photo seems as if he and the model have only just finished having a laugh at some inside joke and have had to pull themselves together to get the shot. Parkinson was a notorious flirt, and loved being in front of the camera as much as he loved being behind it. He was a daring dresser, wearing tight Teddy Boy suits with velvet collars, tweeds, and pajama shirts instead of dress shirts, but as I learned in the book was actually quite secretive about his private life.
From left to right: The book's cover featuring Wenda Parkinson; Carmen Dell'Orefice on the cover of Vogue, July 1959; Princess Dimitri of Russia with her Welsh Corgi from The Sketch Cover, 4th November 1936.
The span of his career captured within the pages of this book is impressive and inspiring. There is an elegance to the women he photographed that is only seen a rare few these days, but is certainly something to aspire to. The book is also a highly informative look at the evolution of fashion photography and features contributions from Vogue's own Creative Director Grace Coddington, as well as model/actress Jerry Hall.
As the holidays draw near, add this to your Christmas wish-list and buy a copy for a deserving friend. Get inspired, and bring out the tweed!
Which is your favorite Norman Parkinson photo? Who are other photographers that inspire you?
All images © NORMAN PARKINSON: A Very British Glamour, by Louise Baring, Rizzoli New York, 2009.