Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson was an eccentric and extremely celebrated English fashion and portrait photographer, working with the likes of Vogue and Queen magazines. He began his career after studying at Westminster School as an apprentice to the court photographers in 1931 and only four years later opened his own studio with fellow photographer Norman Kibblewhite where they both did work for Harpers Bazaar magazine until 1940 where he then joined the Royal Air Force as a reconnaissance photographer over France. Upon leaving the RAF at the end of the war Parkinson went to work for Vogue magazine, where he continued to contribute until 1960, where he continued to Queen magazine as associate contributing editor until 1964, in the previous year he moved to Tobago in the Caribbean. It was from here he travelled frequently to London, working now as a freelance photographer until his death in 1990.

Early in his career he became an influential photographer, while working with Harpers Bazaar he pioneered the use of models in an outdoor setting as opposed to strictly studio work as was the tendency. The image ‘London Fashions’ taken in October 1948 is an early example of his work outside of the studio within the fashion photographer world, this image gives the impression of a candid opportunity and is a wonderful use of the surroundings and the faces of the children add so much to the interest and an element of humour which he was noted for throughout his career. The use, especially in this case of fashion photography out of the studio was such a pioneering and effective change from the normality because for the first time the viewer looking at the end product saw the fashion items in the real world, against the street scenes they would be wearing them in, giving the women looking at these images her first taste of the advertisement world of ‘buying this dress will make you look like this’, a continued major technique in advertising still. In 1975 fellow influential British photographer Cecil Beaton died, at the time he was the royal photographer, and following his death Norman Parkinson took over that role with portraits of both the Queen Mother and Princess Anne, and also the Princesses wedding portraits with Lt. Mark Phillips. Throughout his career he referred to himself as a craftsman, rather than artist, perhaps as a result of the apprenticeship education in photography received or it may well have been the style in which he worked throughout his career. Crafting the model into the situations that resulted in his images with the model completely at ease to further compliment the images with her expression being natural.

Norman Parkinson’s work throughout his career has a great connection with the fourth assignment in the people and place course, his reportage fashion photography throughout the world never ceases to bring together both person and place in the frame in a way that is balanced and dynamic. For example his photograph in February 1948 ‘A spring hat and the city of Bath’ is a perfect example of a person within the context of a place, the distinctly Roman pillar architecture of Bath coupled with the unique placement of the model sets her in the location rather than in front of it which gives the viewer a strong feel of both the elements. Lisa Fonssagrives on Park Avenue, taken in 1949 for US Vogue is a further example, this time in colour of the use of both the strong profile view of the model against a view down a street with the blurred movement of the vehicles, mostly the yellow of the taxi in the foreground giving a strong colour accent that compliments nicely the smaller pink of the models necktie. When looking at photographers I often try to use an image or two of mine to demonstrate an understanding of the photographers work and style, however in this case I have found it very hard to find something that suits Norman Parkinson’s exquisite style and as a big admirer of his work and his style it was difficult to chose, however I have settled on this image;


This image, taken outside Winchester Cathedral focuses on a female walking across the frame, in a confident stride the profile of the woman emits a class and strength that similar to Parkinson’s models while similarly to his work the background and space around the subject gives an added confirmation to the models portrayal.


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