Norman Parkinson in Ten Quotes

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Wenda and ostriches, 1951
Wenda and ostriches, 1951© Norman Parkinson Ltd, Courtesy of the Norman Parkinson Archive

As an exhibition of his work opens at the Proud Chelsea Gallery, We remember English gent and pioneering photographer Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson, or ‘Parks’ as his closer circle knew him, is the grandfather of British fashion photography. With a career spanning 56 years, he pioneered a new fashion narrative that offered a refreshingly fanciful take on clothing. The six-foot-five photographer became one of Britain’s greatest exports, with an imaginative flair for colour and dream-like compositions that blended humour and elegance, all with a quintessentially British charm.

"I like to make people look as good as they'd like to look, and with luck, a shade better" — Norman Parkinson

His whimsical photography appeared in Harper’s Bazaar and Queen: Maudie James elegantly poised in a red boat in Ethiopia, or Wenda Rogerson perched on an ostrich in 1951. In 1975, after photographing Jerry Hall in Soviet Russia, he convinced Hall to smuggle additional rolls of film around her waistband while travelling back to London. He himself was flamboyantly stylish, teaming skullcaps and fur hats with cableknit jumpers and printed shirts. Away from photography, he owned a pig farm in Tobago, and his famous 'Porkinson' sausages were served at the Ritz. As a new exhibition of his work opens at the Proud Chelsea Gallery, we consider ten quotes on this legendary photographer.

1. Norman Parkison on his style of photography...
"I like to make people look as good as they'd like to look, and with luck, a shade better."

2. Norman Parkison on his camera...
"The camera can be the most deadly weapon since the assassin's bullet. Or it can be the lotion of the heart."

3. Grace Coddington on her first shoot with Norman Parkinson...
“A tall, gentlemanly figure wearing one of his lucky little woven Ethiopian skullcaps… I asked if he would like to see my portfolio. He replied, “No, I don’t want to see other people’s pictures of you. I’m only interested in my view of you.”

4. Norman Parkinson on magazines...
"A photographer without a magazine behind him is like a farmer without fields."

5. Norman Parkinson on the work of other photographers at the time, such as Cecil Beaton...
"All the girls had their knees bolted together. You only had to take a deep breath and you could smell the burning oil and the incense and the flower decorations and the great tapestries. I thought: “I don’t know any girls who live like that. My girls do this: they run, jump walls.”’

6. Carmen Dell'Orefice on Norman Parkinson...
“Parkinson wasn’t looking to show the ugly of life. He was trying to portray the beauty and the harmony. He controlled his lust through his art form. And he was such a gentleman.”

7. Norman Parkinson on dying...
"I could never bear to be buried with people to whom I had not been introduced."

8. Jerry Hall on Norman Parkinson
"I became friends with him. as did my husband Mick, and we went on holiday with him. We ended up getting blind drunk. I did find myself lying in a gutter. That has never happened to me before or since, only with Parks."

9. Norman Parkinson on humour
“I like there to be a joke in practically every photo I take. Nobody has the right to make photography boring."

10. Grace Coddingon on Norman Parkinson's style
"He was an amazingly stylish person, he is kind of known for it. His look was unique."

Norman Parkinson: Always in Fashion is running at Proud Chelsea until December 7.

Words by Mhairi Graham