Norman Parkinson’s Century of Style at the National Theatre
Norman Parkinson took fashion photography out of the studio and on location to exotic and unusual settings. 2013 is the centenary of his birth (he died in 1990), meaning he was a leading creative figure in his genre and all its stylistic evolutions and revolutions for much of the 20th century.
Fashion photography can be superficial posturing, or a genuine celebration of a sense of style. Norman Parkinson’s lifetime of fabulous images show how expressive clothes and design can be, and how they can project personality.
The images start from the late 1930s through to the 1980s, and manage to define the look of each decade. In the 40s and 50s young women aspired to look older, and the results are grown-up, suited models jet-setting in a vanished world of glamour. The groovy 60s seem sweet and innocent, the 70s sophisticated and the 80s sharp.
Parkinson photographed many celebrities for magazines such as Vanity Fair and Vogue, and while these remain fashion shoots, they have the insight of portraiture and the stylistic elements needed to grab attention. The images are clearly constructs with chosen environments and postures, but still, Parkinson had a real eye for the right moment to capture the feel of a particular time and place.
Highlights include an arrogant looking David Bowie from the 70s, and glamorous models in the 50s keeping a straight face in unlikely hats and preposterous settings.
This is a likeable and generous exhibition, the walls filled with a good selection from his prolific output. The reprint quality of the earlier prints is remarkably fresh, giving long-gone figures, captured in a moment, a sense of immediacy. Although, the aesthetic of the prints on boards looks rather more like a corporate display than a framed exhibition.
Norman Parkinson was clearly a man who loved his work and understood the enhancing power of fashion.
Photos: Dimitris Amvrazis
Lifework: Norman Parkinson’s Century of Style is at the Lyttelton Exhibition Space, National Theatre until 12th May 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.