Norman Parkinson was born on 21st April 1913 in London. His birth name was Ronald William Parkinson Smith. After finishing his education form Westminster School London he started 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 Kibble white at One Dover Street, their specialty was portraiture photography. Few years after setting up his own studio he worked for Harper Bazaar and The Bystander magazines. He took the first color photographs for Harper Bazaar. In Second World War he served British air force as a photographer. During the Second World War he started his work with Vogue. In this period the work he has produced for Vogue documenting the work of the Auxiliary Territorial Service and of daily life on his Worcestershire farm it certainly reflects the essence of rural culture and simplicity. In 1947 he got married to the well known actress Wenda Rogerson. His work with American vogue began in 1949. He did portrait series for British Vogue of artists, writers, intellectuals, theatre and musical personalities. He then worked for different artists such as Beatles, queens, the rolling stone, author Ian Fleming and many other famous music bands. He photographed the Beatles at a recording session at Abbey Road Studios. In 1963 he moved to Tobago, although frequently returned to London, and from 1964 until his death he worked as a freelance photographer.
In the time span of seven decades, Norman Parkinson has changed the world’s perspective towards the fashion photography. Though his photographs were unstructured and impulsive, still they had a particular pattern. His work for Harper’s Bazaar, Town and country, Vogue and many other international magazines has been appreciated worldwide.
He had different approach each year towards the fashion photography. He started with his cutting edge, extemporaneous images in 1930s. His exceptional image making skill included surreal approach which is prominent characteristic of his vibrant images. After the Second World War his work included mostly exotic locations such as different places in India, Tobago, Jamaica, Haiti and Australia. In 1970s he became a prominent figure in the art world. His work as a photographer to the royal family, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and the subject of a large scale retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery, London this made him decisive figure in the fashion and portraiture photography. His incredible work included celebrities like Iman, Jerry Hall, Audrey Hepburn and Ava Gardner among many others.
‘All the girls had their knees bolted together,’ Parkinson said, recalling the work of fashionable photographers of the day like Cecil Beaton and Edward Steichen. ‘You only had to take a deep breath and you could smell the burning oil and the incense and the flower decorations and the great tapestries. I thought: “I don’t know any girls who live like that. My girls do this: they run, jump walls.”
After the Second World War all magazines and newspapers started sending their photographs to explore the world. In this period Norman Parkinson visited various places like South Africa, Caribbean, Cambodia and many other exotic places. British vogue was loaded with his photographs. Their aim was to bring the world back to their audience through their star photographer Norman Parkinson. When Parkinson was proposed to do a major photo shoot in India by British Vogue, he welcomed it. He exactly knew that vogue readers are not only interested in fashion photographs but also in the country. At that time flights were expensive and less, hence traveling abroad was not possible for everyone. Newspapers and magazines were their only medium to see the world. Norman Parkinson went to India with unique agenda and different eye. His plan was to combine western fashion with Indian landscape. And it worked incredibly; it was indeed a perfect combination of western fashion outfits with the richness of the Indian architecture and landscape.
In 1956 british Vogue was published and everyone was amazed by these images of never before seen india. For this photoshoot Parkinson traveled from south of Mahabalipuram to Dal lake in Kashmir. Diana Vreeland, the then editor of Harper’s Bazaar was delighted by Parkinson’s Indian images. She said, ‘How clever of you, Mr. Parkinson also to know that pink is the navy blue of India.’ Parkinson’s understanding of diversity in India was outstanding. His connect with Indian landscape colors and mood was what made him different from other photographers who have travelled in India. He was always a risk taker. His most popular and successful photographs are taken out door.
If you look at his work carefully, the compositions are just perfect with vibrant yet cleverly selected colors which represent India. His black and white photographs are also perfectly composed; in each frame he has placed the model in such a way that you can still see the beautiful back drop. These photographs are not only a fashion statement, but also it shows the diversity in India. Certainly Parkinson was aware of each and every region in India has different language, food culture, while creating these images, but more than that Parkinson was touched by the graciousness and elegance of Indian people.
He once mentioned, “I like to think I am a photographer who has not got stuck. Any photographer who surrounds himself with studio is doomed” and indeed it’s true in his each image there is perfect balance between colour and light. He has very cleverly chosen the backdrop according to the cloths. Both of them just merge together without knowing the difference in the Indian landscape and western design.
His photographs have inspired many photographers later and I am sure his work will keep on inspiring many more. He was truly a legendary photographer. Looking at today’s monotonous, cliché fashion work, when you see Parkinson’s images they are still fresh and unique.
Ahmedabad – 12 August – 21 August 2011
Kolkata – 15 October – 25 October 2011
Delhi – 23 January – 31 January 2012
Bangalore – 29 February – 22 March 2012
Mumbai – 27 April – 05 May 2012