Fine Art Photography Series
Norman Parkinson

Portrait and Fashion Photographer, Pioneer of "New Naturalism"/"Action Realism".

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Norman Parkinson. One of the
greatest fashion photographers
of the 20th century, and a pioneer
of new forms of visual art.

Norman Parkinson (1913-90)


Norman Parkinson's Photography
Selected Exhibitions
Great Fashion and Portrait Photographers

For more about the early inventions upon which Parkinson's camera art is based, see: History of Photography (c.1800-1900).

For a short explanation of
photographic terminology,
please see:

Art Photography Glossary.

For the best 80 len-based
artists and inventors, see:
Photographers: 19th-Century.


Norman Parkinson's Photography

Acknowledged to be one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Norman Parkinson (or "Parks" as he preferred to be called) was a major contributor to modern art and a pioneer of "New Naturalism" or "action realism" in mass-circulation photography. Influenced by the Hungarian photographer Martin Munkacsi (1896-1963), Parkinson revolutionised the world of fashion photography and portrait art in the 1940s by moving his subjects out of the conventional studio format, into a more dynamic outdoor setting. If his older contemporary Cecil Beaton is best-known for his heavily dressed indoor images of elegance and glamour, Parkinson's fine art photography is renowned for its spontaneity, vivacity and movement. A photographer for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue magazines, as well as Associate Editor of the influential 1960s Queen magazine, he later completed a number of freelance assignments for Life magazine, Town & Country magazine and Elle, among others. He also became a favourite photographer of the British Royal Family. In 1981, he was awarded the Royal Photographic Society's Progress Medal, and later the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Society of Magazine Photographers. Like many of the greatest modern artists, Parkinson succeeded in reinventing himself in virtually every decade of his career, making an enormous contribution to contemporary art in the process. A charmingly eccentric, larger than life character (he stood 6 feet 5 inches tall), who was rarely seen without his fez-like Kashmiri wedding hat, Parkinson compiled an unrivalled portfolio, establishing himself as one of the world's best portrait artists while photographing many of the greatest icons of the twentieth century.

For a guide to the aesthetics and artistic nature of lens-based art, please see: Is Photography Art?


Important Photo: Iconic image of Vanessa Redgrave (1967)
Photographed by Norman Parkinson.


Born Ronald William Parkinson Smith in Roehampton, London and educated at Westminster School, his career begins in 1931, at the age of 18, when he is apprenticed to Speaight and Sons Ltd, the firm of royal photographers in New Bond Street. In 1934 he opens his own studio, specializing in portraits of debutantes. In 1935 he stages his first one-man exhibition at his studio, which includes portraits of Noel Coward and Vivien Leigh. As a result he is recruited as a photographer and photojournalist for Harper's Bazaar and The Bystander magazines.

During the Second World War he serves as a reconnaissance photographer for the Royal Air Force.

After the war he joins Vogue (International) as a portrait and fashion photographer. In 1947 he marries Wenda Rogerson, one of his models. Two years later he makes his first trip to Manhattan, New York, to work for US Vogue. Parkinson depicts the city's post-war glamour and sense of optimism by photographing beautiful women on the streets of the metropolis. His unique pioneering "action realist" style helps to transform conventional fashion photography.

For another British portrait and news photographer who came to fame in the postwar era, see: Larry Burrows (1926-71).

In 1960 he leaves Vogue and becomes Associate Editor of Queen magazine (the most influential fashion magazine of the early 1960s), before relocating to Tobago as a tax exile. In 1964 he becomes a freelance photographer, doing assignments around the world for Life, Vogue, Elle, and Town & Country magazines. In 1981, having already taken several series of photographs of Prince Charles and Princess Anne, including the official engagement and wedding portraits of Anne and Mark Phillips, as well as an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother - he is appointed official photographer to the royal family. In the same year he takes the "Blue Trinity" portrait of the Queen, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, and enjoys a major retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 1985 he designs the Pirelli Calendar. He continues to work right up until his death in 1990, which occurs while he is on location in Singapore.

Note: for other new artistic disciplines developed during the course of the 20th-century see: Installation and Video Art. For the new style of photographic-style painting, see: Photorealism.

Selected Exhibitions

1935 London (Parkinson Studio)
1978 London (The Photographers' Gallery)
1980 Oxford (group show at Museum of Modern Art)
1981 London (National Portrait Gallery)
1985 London (group show at Victoria and Albert Museum)
2004 London (National Portrait Gallery)
2004 London (Hamiltons)
2004 New York (Staley + Wise Gallery Retrospective: 1935-1990)
2008 London (The Parking Lot)

Photographs by Norman Parkinson are regularly shown in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across Europe and America.

Great Portrait and Fashion Photographers


For other camera artists best-known for their fashion photography in glossy women's magazines, including the likes of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Vanity Fair and so on, please see the following articles.

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
Irving Penn (1917-2009)
Helmut Newton (1920-2004)
Richard Avedon (1923-2004)
David Bailey (b.1938)
• Patrick Demarchelier (b.1943)


For other renowned artists best-known for their photographic portraits, please see the following articles.

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Man Ray (1890-1976)
Dorothea Lange (1895-1965)
Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)
Hans Namuth (1915-90)
Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Don McCullin (b.1935)
Annie Leibovitz (b.1949)

• For another art form involving photography, see: Animation Art.
• For more about fashion and portrait photography in the 20th-century, see: Homepage.

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