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Norman Parkinson Centenary Celebrations in Bath and London

01/05/2013 They called him ‘The Guv’nor’ or ‘Parks’. Norman Parkinson was a pioneering, eccentric British fashion photographer for whom life was a constant search for beautiful women. Right now (until May 12) there is an exhibition at the former Royal Photographic Society HQ at The Octagon, Bath, marking the centenary of the great man’s birth. And if you miss that you’ve got another chance to see a further collection of outstanding Parkinson images at The National Theatre until May 27. Both exhibitions are FREE.

He was born plain Ronald Smith but changed his name to Norman Parkinson.

Raised in a three-bed semi in Putney he admitted that he and school didn’t mix well. He once said: “I couldn’t see the point of education but I could see interesting things going on in the street.”

Back in the Forties he set about creating a paradigm shift in the way photographers shot fashion – preferring the easy, casual elegance of the great outdoors to the stiffness of a studio setting. His flair for stunning originality led to him photographing celebrities, artists and the Royal Family and the creation of a huge archive of images taken across sixty years of working life – until his death aged 76 in 1990.


1948, Photo ©Norman Parkinson

Tall (6’ 5”) and charismatic he used his charm to get the best from his models. And he refused to shoot without his lucky hat.

Jerry Hall, former model and former wife of Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger, said Parkinson was never bound by rules. “He was polite and quirky but he knew what he wanted from a picture and just didn’t stop until he got it.”

Now a special exhibition created for Bath in Fashion 2013, in collaboration with the Norman Parkinson Archive, is showcasing around forty iconic Parkinson images – some never seen before.

Nicky Hancock, of Hancock Communications – an agency that promotes the annual Bath in Fashion week told Hasselblad News: “We worked with the Norman Parkinson Archive on the idea for an exhibition. They contacted French fashion designer Roland Mouret – a man who had met and always admired Norman Parkinson – and he agreed to curate the exhibition for us.”

Alex Anthony, Parkinson Archive co-ordinator added: “We decided to recreate one of Norman's images that had been shot in Bath in 1948. He had strong connection with the city and in fact he had his 75th birthday exhibition at The Octagon – but we didn’t know that when we started planning this. We decided to shoot both in vintage and modern day fashions and see how close we could get to the 1948 shoot. Parkinson always chose models that looked different. His images in the Forties were resonant of that era – but then he did the same in every new decade. He just kept re-inventing himself.”

A Hasselblad aficionado, Parkinson once told an assistant:  “Use a 35 mm to create mood with a fashion shoot but if you want sharpness and technical supremacy then use a Hasselblad.”

But he never spoke in numbers when engaged with models at a shoot…he would just shout to his assistant: “Get me the Hasselblad with the fat lens’. And he described his cameras as ‘gadgets with a black hole in the middle… but I have kind gremlins in the black hole.”

Chris Burfoot, Sales Manager broncolor Lighting, Hasselblad UK, was the photographer behind the 1948 re-shoot.

He told Hasselblad News: “I was honoured to be asked to do this. Norman Parkinson has always been one of my favourite photographers. It was a bit daunting but I shot with an H4D-50 and a broncolor MOVE battery pack. I used the flash for the modern fashion shot and a reflector for the vintage-style image – just to bounce a bit of light back into the model’s face.

I think it was pretty close to the original but we could never replicate it exactly because we didn’t know which lens or focal length Parkinson used – we just had to guess. We had to do some post-production work of course. For example, we needed to remove some bollards and lamp posts that Parkinson wouldn’t have been troubled by in 1948.”

Added Chris: “We did this as a total tribute to him. I just hope he would be pleased and not angry with what we did!”


2013, Photo by Hasselblad


Mouvements de Femmes by Norman Parkinson,

Curated by Roland Mouret for Bath in Fashion 2013

An Exhibition marketing the Centenary of Norman Parkinson’s birth.

For Bath in Fashion 2013.

In partnership with the Norman Parkinson Archive.

13. April – 12. May 2013

Location: The Octagon in Milsom Place, Bath


National Theatre:

“Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style”