Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion

Masters of Photography Series

“Any photographer who surrounds himself with a studio is doomed.” Norman Parkinson

Today we will take a look at the book Norman Parkinson:Portraits in Fashion. Parkinson is known for his long association with Vogue Magazine and his dramatic, bold and glamorous fashion and portraiture photography.

Born Ronald William Parkinson Smith in London, 1913, he died in 1990 whilst shooting for Town and Country magazine. He pioneered sexy and energetic fashion and portrait photography, injecting a casual and fun energy into his photography. Along with Vogue, he worked for Harper’s Bazaar, photographed the British Royal family, The Beatles, Grace Coddington, David Bowie, Twiggy, Iman, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall and many others.

Young Velvets, Young Prices, Hat Fashions

Norman Parkinson.Fashion models wear a variety of hats on the roof of the Condé Nast building on Lexington Avenue. The Chrysler and Empire State buildings in the background, US, October 15, 1949.
Fashion models wear a variety of elegant hats on the roof of the Condé Nast building on Lexington Avenue. The Chrysler and Empire State buildings in the background, US, October 15, 1949.

It goes along perfectly with another image from the same era. Elegance, grace and movement. He must have known Saul Leiter (USA, born 1923) who also shot for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. Leiter was to become famous for his photographs shot through shop and bar windows, not too dissimilar to this. This is his beautiful (third) wife, Wenda.

Norman Parkinson 1949. Model is wife, Wenda Parkinson.
Norman Parkinson 1949. Model is wife, Wenda Parkinson.

Wenda at Hyde Park Corner

Norman Parkinson 1951. Model is wife, Wenda Parkinson.
Norman Parkinson 1951. Model is wife, Wenda Parkinson.

ADELE COLLINS

I adore this following image of model Adele Collins. Based on a painting by Dutch-French painter, Kees van Dongen called The Corn Poppy from 1919. The stunning tapestry takes on a life of it’s own, instead of being a background. Like the original painting, it is an explosion of colour and shapes. Very abstract.

Norman Parkinson. Adele Collins photographed for Vogue magazine, 1959. Hat by London-based milliner, Otto Lucas.
Norman Parkinson. Adele Collins photographed for Vogue magazine, 1959. Hat by London-based milliner, Otto Lucas.
Kees van Dongen The Corn Poppy from 1919.
Kees van Dongen The Corn Poppy from 1919.
Norman Parkinson. Adele Collins photographed for Vogue magazine, 1959. Hat by London-based milliner, Otto Lucas.

Wenda and the Cow

Norman Parkinson. Wenda and the Cow. 1954
Norman Parkinson. Wenda and the Cow. 1954

This particular image I find incredibly fascinating as it seems to be built on rectangles. I love her cheeky expression too. In so much fashion photography now days, the models just look incredibly sad or despondent. She looks like she is in on the joke. This is Wenda Parkinson again, Norman’s wife.

Norman Parkinson. Wenda and the Cow. 1954

NEW York New York, East River Drive

The following image just screams New York. Whenever I see it I think of that song from the 1949 movie On the Town with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra “New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town!” Although they running home from their nine-to-five, they have so much energy. New York, New York!

Norman Parkinson’s “New York, New York: East River Drive,” 1959.

The running couple are Parkinson’s neighbors Robin Miller and Pippa Diggle. (They eventually married) I love the line of his hat is perfectly aligned with the skyscraper behind him. He is off the ground running too, which gives the image so much energy.

Nena von Schlebrugge

Although I hate furs, I do love this old-school elegance in the following image. Nena is cool, calm and look at that bracelet!

The model, Nena von Schlebrügge, was married to Robert Thurman and one of their children is Uma Thurman. She is a Mexican-born Swedish American psychotherapist and was discovered by Parkinson when she was in her teens. When you look at her you can clearly see Uma Thurman. They both also share the interest in Buddhism. She is now the managing director of a Buddhist centre-the Menla Mountain Retreat in the Catskill Mountains, New York.

Norman Parkinson, 1958. Model Nena von Schlebrügge.
Norman Parkinson, 1958. Model Nena von Schlebrügge.

NUDE

A bit more raunchy, with some lovely movement in the leg. Sexy without revealing much, her hair and that lounge are the highlight.

Norman Parkinson. First nude published in Vogue Beauty Book No. 5, 1951.
First nude published in Vogue Beauty Book No. 5, 1951.

BABY YOU CAN DRIVE MY CAR

More energy and movement with a model driving. Certainly he was an inspiration for future photographers like Ellen von Unwerth. It’s not called Baby You Can Drive My Car, but it could be! Beep beep yeah.

DONALD AND IVANA TRUMP

I had to include this rather bizarre photo of Donald and Ivana Trump here too. For a start, he is sitting on her lap-very emasculating for someone of ‘power’, and they look like they are sitting on a coffin, with the American flag coming out of his head. More flags rest on the ‘coffin’. It’s excess in the most gross of displays. All money and no class.

I can’t find any information on the image, but considering Parkinson was an educated, refined and elegant Englishman, I can imagine this is quite a dig at Trump.

Norman Parkinson. Donald and Ivana Trump. Trump Tower.

PORTUGAL

Back to elegance and style. Again, the ‘subject’ is out of focus, and a cat runs down a Portugues alleyway.

Norman Parkinson, Portugal. Vogue, January 1973.
Norman Parkinson, Portugal. Vogue, January 1973.
Norman Parkinson, The Art of Travel, Vogue 1951
Norman Parkinson, The Art of Travel, Vogue 1951

I could go on forever here. Norman Parkinson had a long and illustrious career spanning several decades. It is clear his passion for beauty, refined money, elegance and style comes across in every photo. Before Parkinson, models were stiff, frozen and awkward. He allowed his models to be themselves, to have fun, and move in front of the camera and to act the part. For that alone, he is considered a pioneer and one of the best photographers that ever lived.

Until next time, best wishes.

Don

Portrait Photography Techniques

The Challenge of an uncomfortable portrait sitter

Last week, as a bit of a challenge from a friend, I photographed a self-confessed hater of sitting for portraits, my ex-girlfriend Sharyn. Although she is very striking, she is not that comfortable in front of the camera. So, challenge accepted, she came over to have her portrait taken.

We parted ways over 30 years ago, but have been friends since reconnecting around 10 years ago. I wanted her to look stunning. I wanted her to want to hang one of these images in her family home. To post them on social media. To be really happy with them.

Generally speaking, people want to look good in their portrait. Not many people want to be portrayed in a bad light, or for the image to be unflattering. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but for the life of me I can’t recall any reason why.

She HATES having her photo taken. Her son, Jude, graces my front page. He loves having his photo taken. So when she joked about me photographing her, I said I would make her look great, and more importantly, feel comfortable doing so.

I started off using a flash with a softbox, in a Beauty Portrait style setup- with flash above and directly in front of the sitter, with a reflector under their chin to fill the shadows. But I was not getting what I wanted so I switched to 100% natural light.

Luckily I am blessed with gorgeous light in most of my house. All these images were taken in different rooms of my house and studio. Work with what you have got. Look for where the light is good in your home.

MAking Someone feel good in front of the camera

So, here are some thing I learnt about shooting someone who hates the camera:

  1. Drink champagne. (Okay, this was her trick!) I am not endorsing the consumption of alcohol, but a little drink while chatting beforehand and half way through the shoot can work wonders for a nervous sitter. If you know them, okay. I would never suggest this with someone I don’t know. (A little bit creepy)
  2. Talk to them through the whole process. I show my sitters how I want them to stand, or what to do with their hand. “Sit with your legs up like this, and your hand resting here.” Explain the lighting, the poses, how you want them to sit, what to think about. Yes, how to think. “Think about being confident, brave.”
  3. Give constant feedback. “You are looking great.” “You look gorgeous.” “These photos are going to look so nice.” You have to mean it, otherwise you are lying. “I like that pose, yes, that looks great.” They can’t see what you are seeing, so you have to tell them.
  4. Show them. Pause every now and then and show them the preview screen. I generally shoot hand-held, so it’s easy to show them how they are looking. Pick the good one to show them…not the one where you caught them off guard and they are pulling a face. They will generally (and hopefully) say “Wow, that looks good!” Which is the signal to keep going.
  5. Ask them. Ask how they are doing, are they okay. “You are looking more comfortable now, are you feeling it?
  6. Laugh. I always try and keep every shoot light and fun. In between these photos were were laughing and joking around. (There were some of those too, I just didn’t include them here)
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/60 sec @ f/4 ISO 320 Natural light, no reflector.
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/60 sec @ f/4 ISO 320 Natural light, no reflector.
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/8 sec @ f/5 ISO 320 Natural light, reflector under chin.
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/8 sec @ f/5 ISO 320 Natural light, reflector under chin.
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/8 sec @ f/5 ISO 320 Natural window light.
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/8 sec @ f/5 ISO 320 Natural window light.
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/125 sec @ f/4 ISO 500 Natural window light, no reflector.
Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 1.8 lens. 1/125 sec @ f/4 ISO 500 Natural window light, no reflector.

I hope that has been useful in shooting portraits where the sitter isn’t so comfortable in front of the camera.

Until next time, best wishes,

Don

Seascape Photography

I’ve just returned* from a week in Culburra Beach on the South Coast of N.S.W, Australia. A magical place of long, empty beaches, rugged sandstone headlands, a lake and Crookhaven river spilling into the sea.

Nikon D750 w/ Tamron SP 90mm. 8 sec at f/16 ISO 100

Maybe 90% of the houses in this small town are holiday homes. A place you may not want to go to in summer, but in winter it is perfect. Quiet, peaceful.

Nikon D750 w/ Tamron SP 90mm. 5 sec at f/16 ISO 100

The pack (my partner Denise and our dog, Boofy) love the beach walks and the roaring log fire.

Nikon D750 w/ Tamron SP 90mm. 7 sec at f/16 ISO 100

Waking up to the sound of waves and birds makes a nice change to leaf-blowers and never-ending construction sites in our neighbourhood. 

It was mid-winter, so spectacular sunsets were standard, as well as freezing cold winds knocking over tripods ( I damaged my new lens as it hit some rocks- now it makes a terrible crunching noise when I focus ) and sand getting inside gear bags and clothes. The pictures look calm and serene, but the conditions were quite the opposite.

Nikon D750 w/ Tamron SP 90mm. 8 sec at f/13 ISO 100

I got sandblasted most days with icy (for Australian standards!) winds. I tried to make it seem ‘romantic’. That I was ‘braving the elements to capture the shot’ like an intrepid National Geographic photographer in the Arctic. (I have a vivid imagination) No, it was just winter on a beach a few hours south of Sydney. 

Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 50mm 2.8. 8 sec at f/16 ISO 100

I did feel, as I was packing up, and the sun had long gone behind the escarpment, that I had achieved something worthwhile. It is easy to stay at home, but the real thrill in life is getting out and exploring and shooting. Now that is a real reward, regardless of the images you capture. 

Nikon D750 w/ Nikon 28mm. 1/160 sec at f/11 ISO 100
A short video too!

*This was written and shot last year. (Didn’t get spectacular photos this year- please see this post)

Until next time, best wishes.

Don

Lonely Town: Twilight Suburbia Photography

More images on the themes of loneliness and fear. I had an uneasy childhood, growing up in darkest suburbia. Stalkers around toilet blocks, domestic violence, roaming gangs, street violence. An ongoing project is trying to capture this unease.

I grew up in a place called Gosford, most Sydneysiders know how drug-riddled, dangerous and just-damn-scary this place is. Inside my childhood home wasn’t that much better.

These were taken in the small town of Culburra, 3 hours south of Sydney. At times, I scared the hell out of myself walking around empty streets and dark car parks. Some shots were taken from my car, straight through the windscreen.

Hope you enjoy, or not.

Best wishes until next time.

Don

MISTY MORNING LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY

My partner and I woke early this morning to head one hour west of Sydney to rural Greendale. We take our dog, Bruce, out there every month or so for acupuncture. (No kidding)

Today I was in the passenger’s seat to capture some landscapes from the moving car, with my phone- A Samsung S7.

Love this phone, and bought it for the camera, even though I am an Applehead. A quick pass through Lightroom and I’m done. I made a preset just for this morning’s shoot and just applied it to all the images with just a little tweak here and there.

I still get surprised at the lovely quality of images coming from this phone/camera. Beautiful colours and lovely dynamic range. I do sometimes use the Lightroom app or the Pro settings that come with the Samsung, but I just find it a little fiddly, so I just shoot auto- especially when it is so early in the morning.

Hope you enjoy the photos.

Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.
Greendale, NSW Australia. 8:00am on a chilly, foggy morning. Samsung S7. Auto settings.

Until next time, best wishes.

Don