Norman Parkinson – Defining the Look

by Katie on May 19, 2010

Last week I attended the Chris Beetles gallery (Ryder Street, London SW1) to view over fifty world famous images from possibly the most iconic fashion photographer ever, Norman Parkinson.

Since a young age, Parkinson’s prints and their endless glamour have haunted me and probably influenced my passion for vintage 1950’s style, glamour and elegance. Either incredibly colourful or potently powerful in their black and white guise, Parkinson’s fashion and portrait photography captures another age, stylised to the nth degree. Joined at the hip with Vogue magazine (from 1945-1960) who helped make his career, Parkinson famously quipped, “A photographer without a magazine behind him is like a farmer without fields”. We should be eternally grateful to Vogue.



Norman Parkinson’s wit, style and innovative methods ensured him a place at the forefront of international photography – as influential and as imitated as Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, and the other great figures of his era.

He is celebrated as one of the first fashion photographers to take models outside the studio, and in turn remove the stuffiness that had become associated with the genre. Freed of such traditional constraints, his images sparkle with a delightful, playful glamour, as his models live out the jet-set dream. From the streets of New York and the plains of Africa, to the tropical beaches of the Caribbean, Parkinson’s exotic shoots embodied an irresistible lifestyle that appealed to advertisers, editors and public alike, and which was far removed from the drab realities of post-war Britain.


Parkinson was married to celebrated fashion model Wenda Parkinson who features in many of Parkinson’s photographs, truly depicting Parkinson’s version of glamour. Add to that, Parkinson’s own striking look and frame, he became a walking six-foot-five caricature of a dandyish Englishman with an office-class moustache and a furled umbrella or Kashmiri wedding hat. A photography version of Dali, if you will.

Many models were exulted to fame by Parkinson including Celia Hammond (who he discovered for Queen magazine), Jan Ward, Adele Collins, Davina Taylor, Carmen dell’Orefice, Enid Boulting and the first ‘supermodel’ and wife of fellow photographer Irving Penn, Lisa Fonssagrives.



The Chris Beetles Gallery is in Ryder Street, SW1. The selling exhibition of over 50 Parkinson prints, mostly vintage, is now open (19th May-12th June 2010). The show has been curated in conjunction with both the Norman Parkinson Archive and the archive of Angela Williams, Parkinson’s assistant during the early 1960s. Visit www.chrisbeetles.com for further information and pricing. Images featured include:-


C29312 AFTER VAN DONGEN, 1959
C29320 YOUNG VELVETS, YOUNG PRICES, HAT FASHIONS, NEW YORK, 1949
C29327 SPEEDBOAT AT DUBROVNIK, CROATIA, 1937

All images “COPYRIGHT NORMAN PARKINSON ARCHIVE”

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