Norman Parkinson : A Very Bristish Glamour

September 20, 2009 § 1 Comment


All Images © Norman Parkinson Ltd

Legendary British fashion photographer Norman Parkinson, CBE (1913 – 1990) is being celebrated in two ways this month; firstly with the launch of a new monograph by Louise Baring entitled ‘Norman Parkinson: A Very British Glamour‘.

51+DvGmkr6L._SL500_AA240_Published by Rizzoli in October and with contributions by Grace Coddington and Jerry Hall, this book gives a wonderful view of his career spanning over 50 years.

Then to celebrate the publication of the book, a selection of portraits from the Norman Parkinson archive will be displayed at Somerset House, London from 9 October 2009 – 31 January 2010.

Norman Parkinson or ‘Parks’ as he preferred to be called, is quite simply one of my favorite photographers who revolutionised the world of British fashion photography in the 1940’s by creating pictures that were entirely different from anything that had come before him.

Parkinson’s images were modern, often humorous and spontaneous. He was one of the first photographers to bring his models from the rigid studio environment into a far more dynamic outdoor setting. He encouraged them to move naturallyand liked his girls to be active, jump and be full of life.


It was through this vivacity and his creative use of outdoor locations, that his work became famous. He was so influential, he also ‘made’ models such as Jerry Hall, Celia Hammond, Carmen Dell’ Orefice and Wenda Rogerson, who later became not only his muse, but his wife (see image below).

Parks woman and ostriches

It wasn’t just his impulsive and unstructured style to photography that made him stand out – his persona played a big part in his celebrity. He was always professional,  had impeccable manners and charmed his subjects with his eccentricities. Since he was 6 ft 5 inches tall, he was unable to remain unobtrusive behind the lens of his camera, so he created this flamboyant personality who often wore a Kashmiri wedding hat while taking photographs, to reassure and disarm any uneasy sitters he had.


 Norman Parkinson, self portraits


Norman Parkinson began his career in 1931 as an apprentice to the court photographers Speaight and Sons Ltd. In 1934 he opened his own studio together with Norman Kibblewhite specialising in portraiture. In 1935 he had his first solo exhibition that included portraits of Vivien Leigh and Noel Coward after which Parkinson was recruited by Harper’s Bazaar and The Bystander magazines to take editorial and reportage photographs.

woman and horses

After the war he was employed as a portrait and fashion photographer for Vogue magazine and worked for them right up until 1960 when his contract was terminated over after a dispute regarding ownership over negatives of photographs commissioned for its magazine.

woman on post

He was then recruited as Associate Editor of Queen magazine (the most influential fashion and features magazine of the early 1960s), before moving to Tobago with his family in 1963 to live in tax exile. He frequently returned to London and travelled around the world to fulfill the assignments required by Queen magazine, however when his contract with them ended he began to freelance for Life Magazine and others until his death at the age of 75.

Norman Parkinson was one of the first fashion photographers to enjoy personal celebrity worldwide recognition. He was not just much-loved with the fashion pack, but was also admired and adored by the British Royal family

He took the first official photographs of Prince Charles at his investiture as Prince of Wales. A favourite of Princess Anne, he photographed her on her horse in Windsor Great Park, and took official portraits for her 19th and 21st birthday’s as well as the official engagement and wedding portraits of her and Captain Mark Phillips.

NPG P200, Queen Elizabeth II; Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; Princess Margaret

He also took portraits for Queen Mothers 75th and 80th birthday’s, including the ‘Blue Trinity’ portrait of the Queen, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

woman in gown

Part of Parkinson’s success, is that he reinvented himself for each of the seven decades of his career, continually dazzling the world with his sparkling inventiveness as a photographer.

This timely book, ‘Norman Parkinson: A Very British Glamour‘ illustrates his unrivalled portfolio containing photographs of many of the greatest icons of the twentieth century as well as some of the world’s most beautiful women. Shining through his work is Parkinson’s inimitable wit and style, and his unique eye for glamour and beauty.

philip treacy

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