Norman Parkinson’s century of style

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A retrospective of revolutionary fashion photographer Norman Parkinson’s life works are on show at the National Theatre, marking the centenary of his birth.

Featuring portraits of David Bowie, Maggie Smith and the Royal family alongside a number of Parkinson’s most iconic fashion shoots, the exhibition is a comprehensive look at the photographer’s career, which spanned seven decades, curator John Langley says.

“This is a full retrospective that takes in Parkinson’s fashion work from quite early pre-war to photos taken near the time that he died,” he says.

Working as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar from 1935 to 1940 and for Vogue from 1945 to 1960, London-born Parkinson was considered a pioneer in both the photography and fashion industries. He was one of the first photographers to take models out of a studio and into exotic locations; prior to this fashion photography was shot in a very static way, John explains.

“When he started out he worked in a studio where everything was done falsely and he started playing around with angles and basically got sacked. He went on to set up his own portrait studio where he continued carrying on his experiments,” John says. “His breakthrough was taking his models out into the open air and filming them in the natural environment or against cityscapes.”

One of his most iconic pieces the 1951 Art of Travel captures his wife on an air strip in Kenya. Included in the National Theatre’s exhibition, it remains one of his most poignant and popular works.

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Norman Parkinson’s Century of Style is on show at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton Exhibition Space, Upper Ground Southbank, SE1 9PX, up until May 12. Admission: free. Phone: 020 7452 3400. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

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