Before Norman Parkinson (1913–1990) came along, fashion photography was rather stiff. Models didn’t jump or spin. Clothes remained static. A new exhibit, opening at The Octagon at Milson Place in Bath, England (from April 13–May 12, with free admission) celebrates the career of the cunning British photographer who brought compelling narratives and offhand, exuberant compositions to magazine editorials. “My aim,” he said in 1984, “was to take moving pictures with a still camera.” Curated by designer Roland Mouret, Mouvements de Femmes fetes Parkinson’s spectacular career, spanning over five decades of work at British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Queen magazines shooting everyone from the royal family to The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios and Jerry Hall posing in the former U.S.S.R. “If ever I took memorable pictures…it was because I insisted on seeing the clothes live—walked in, whirled and twirled in,” he wrote in his autobiography. And insist he did till the very end: Parkinson passed away while on location shooting for Town and Country. Here, Alexandra Anthony, coordinator of the Norman Parkinson Archive in London, speaks to his legacy.
How did Roland Mouret get involved?
We wanted a leading figure in the fashion world to highlight Parkinson’s relevance [and] approached Roland to guest curate as we knew he was passionate about his work. There is a shared aesthetic between the two. [Mouret’s] clothing doesn’t restrict the woman wearing it, but rather, is a means of expression.
Why does Parkinson’s work endure?
He had the ability to move the times. He didn’t stick to what he knew and was applauded for early on; he changed his style to fit the demands of the age and his changing audience.
With such well-known images, what do you think will surprise people most about this exhibit?
The range is incredible. He can go from creating beautifully classic fashion images to pictures that look contemporary more than 60 years after they were taken.
What are considered Parkinson’s golden years?
The late ’40s and ’50s, but there are many wonderful images from the beginning of his career in the late ’30s and early ’40s. His work for Queen magazine in the ’60s is also very whimsical and irreverent.
What do you think today’s photographers could learn from Parkinson?
Elements Parkinson regularly used throughout his career—humour, taking models outside of the studio and using naturalistic settings, exotic backdrops, building a narrative around a fashion feature—all these are commonplace now.
What do you hope visitors leave with?
The fun that permeates his pictures. Parkinson loved his job and had a lot of fun along the way—this comes across very clearly in his photographs.