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

6 thoughts on “Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion

  1. Those B & W images are stunning, especially Wendy with the umbrella and the first shot of Wendy with the cow.

    What a ‘delicious’ colour in that shot of Nena.

    When I studied Fashion Design at College, I don’t remember any Fashion Photography as part of the course, even though we studied the History of Fashion as a subject. Gosh, 45+ years ago now. (I feel really old 😀 )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Vicky, Wenda was such a wonderful model, as was Nena. It’s a shame they don’t study photography with fashion as they are so linked. I did jewellery for a fashion design student a few years ago- now they don’t even study sewing-they learn how to ‘farm out’ tasks.

    Like

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