Profile: Norman Parkinson

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Norman Parkinson is generally recognised as the man who fathered a new age of stylish storytelling in fashion photography. He blasted the rather stuffy and staid traditions of the 1930s photography, for which, he once said: “All the girls had their knees bolted together”.

Railing against the conservatism of the day when he entered the industry in 1931, Parkinson photographed some of Britain’s most beautiful women in fun, feisty and whimsical set-ups, blazing a trail which would be taken up by David Bailey and Brian Duffy.

“I like to make people look as good as they’d like to look, and with luck, a shade better,” he famously once said. This formula evidently worked well, as one of Parkinson’s favourite and most frequent models was the actress and author Wenda Rogerson, who became his wife of 40 years.

Parkinson’s career spanned seven decades before he died on location in Malaysia in 1990. Between 1945 and 1960 he worked for Vogue, snapping Hollywood greats and the supermodels of the day. Other glossies which regularly printed his wares included Queen, Life, Town & Country and Harper’s Bazaar. Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret Thatcher are among the glitzy names on his portfolio. He was there at the very start of Beatlemania snapping the Fab Four outside a hotel in Russell Square in 1963.

Parkinson was often invited to photograph the royal family and was there to produce the first official photographs of Prince Charles at his investiture as Prince of Wales. In 1980 Parkinson was commissioned to photograph the Queen mother sat between her two daughters, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, for her 80 birthday.

Iconic images of world’s oldest working supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice, 80, taken by Parkinson decades ago were among those recently auctioned at the London College of Fashion after the model lost her life savings after investing in a Bernie Madoff scam.  

‘The Godfather of British Fashion Photography – The Glamour Years’ is at Gallery Vassie from 26 November 2011 until 21 January 2012,