Norman Parkinson was one of the most influential fashion photographers of the 20th century. He revolutionised the field by taking his models out of the studio and into natural or exotic locations, creating dynamic and spontaneous images that captured the spirit of the times. He worked for prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Queen, and photographed celebrities, royals, artists and politicians with his distinctive style and humour. In this blog post, we will explore some of his iconic works and his legacy for modern photography.
Parkinson was born in London in 1913 and started his career as an apprentice to a court photographer. He opened his own studio in 1934 and soon attracted the attention of Harper's Bazaar, where he worked until 1940. He joined Vogue in 1941 and remained there until 1960, becoming one of their most prolific and versatile photographers. He also served as a reconnaissance photographer for the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Parkinson's innovation was to break away from the rigid and formal conventions of studio photography and to use natural light, movement and props to create more realistic and lively images. He often used humour and irony to contrast his glamorous subjects with their surroundings, such as placing models in front of industrial landscapes, rural scenes or exotic animals. He also experimented with different angles, perspectives and techniques to achieve dramatic effects.
Some of his most famous photographs include:
- The first bikini shot for British Vogue in 1946, featuring model June Duncan on a beach in Cornwall.
- The cover of Life magazine in 1949, featuring model Wenda Rogerson (who later became his wife) wearing a hat made of roses.
- The portrait of Audrey Hepburn in 1955, wearing a black dress and holding a cigarette holder, which inspired the iconic look of her character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
- The group portrait of The Beatles in 1963, taken at Abbey Road Studios during their recording session for With The Beatles.
- The portrait of David Bowie in 1973, wearing a Ziggy Stardust costume and posing with a Great Dane.
- The portrait of Iman in 1981, wearing a gold dress and standing on a sand dune in Kenya.
Parkinson's work influenced generations of fashion photographers, such as David Bailey, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Mario Testino. He was honoured with many awards, including a CBE in 1981 and a retrospective exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 1985. He died in 1990 while on assignment in Singapore. His archive contains over 500,000 images that document the history of fashion and culture for over half a century.