British photographic history

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BBC TV: Norman Parkinson - 21 April BBC2

2013 marks the centenary of the birth of Norman Parkinson, one of the greats of British photography with an incomparably glamorous career which spanned seven decades. To celebrate the occasion, the Norman Parkinson Archive has granted Arena access to its entire collection of over 350,000 negatives. Arena presents an amusing and visually stunning profile of this uniquely talented man with original contributions from his colleagues and admirers including Jerry Hall, Iman, Grace Coddington (American Vogue), Celia Hammond, Nena Thurman and Carmen dell’ Orefici – the world’s oldest working supermodel. The Arena film is broadcast on BBC2 on Sunday, 21 April 2013 (see:

A man of great charisma and a true English eccentric, Arena examines Park’s larger-than-life persona, and considers how his well-rehearsed eccentricities were deployed to reassure the uneasy sitter and disarm the experienced model. Once described as an ‘elegant giraffe’, Parkinson, who was 6’5”, sported a twirling moustache, liked to dress in kaftans, loud beach shirts, heavy gold jewellery and a Kashmiri bridal cap.

He grew up in a semi-detached house in Putney, South London, and failed to distinguish himself at Westminster School. After an apprenticeship with a declining firm of staid court photographers in Bond Street, he set up his own London studio at the age of just twenty-one. One of a new generation of heterosexual photographers, he was among the first to 'get girls to run and jump and let the air through their knees' and to photograph them on buses and in pubs rather than the genteel confines of the studio. Parkinson concentrated on taking pictures of beautiful women. 'Being photographed is a whole section of a woman’s identity' he claimed, and felt they should always be flattered by the camera.

Filmed in New York and London, the Arena documentary presents an abundance of glamorous images and explores the life and times of ‘Parks’, heir to Cecil Beaton and precursor of David Bailey, whose singular ability to tune into the vibe of the times meant he outlasted all his peers and never went out of fashion. Parkinson became the Royal Family’s favourite photographer and brought a new informality to their portraits. The documentary includes BBC archive material and interviews with Parks dating back to 1965.

In his later years, (describing himself 'I look like a decaying colonel'), he further distinguished himself with his Mr Porkinson’s sausages, which he produced on the pig farm at his Tobago dream home and would sometimes smuggle back to England wrapped in pairs of socks. In 1990, he collapsed on a location shoot for luxury magazine Town & Country and died a few days later, aged 76.                                                                                                                   

In addition The Norman Parkinson Archive is working exclusively with Bath in Fashion 2013 to stage a unique centenary exhibition (13 April-12 May) which will celebrate one of Britain’s most influential and idiosyncratic fashion photographers. The free exhibition has been curated by high profile fashion designer, Roland Mouret.  See:

Image: © The Norman Parkinson Archive 

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