Norman Parkinson would be a century old next month, and London is celebrating his legacy in style at the National Theatre with a retrospective of 50 years of iconic fashion photography.
Famous for taking fashion photography out of the studio and for being six-foot-five with a white colonial moustache, Norman Parkinson was dapper, decadent, entirely endearing and extremely good at making the ordinary look beautiful. A favourite of the Royals, working for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Parkinson’s photography and persona brought him into the presence of David Bowie, whom he photographed Ziggy style clashing with the furniture around him; Audrey Hepburn who posed pretty in pink, blending into the blossom behind her; and possibly the most seen but least known of all, Pippa Diggle (pictured bottom next to the 1959 photograph of herself). Pippa was a Londoner working as a medical secretary in Manhattan when she chance encountered Parkinson. “He wanted a couple, but not professional models so he asked Robin [Miller], that’s the man in the photo, if he knew a girl and he said yes, she lives in the same house so that’s how it all started”, she told i-D, 54 years later. Pippa is 79 now but in ’59 she helped create one of New York’s most familiar and iconic images in ‘the work of half an hour,’ for travel magazine of the time, Go. It’s the black and white image you’ve all seen, of a man and a girl running across Brooklyn Bridge, away from the city skyline. “He stopped the car and pretended we’d broken down and he said stand over there and then “come on dear, run! Run!” So we ran towards him again and again and he just came out with this amazing photograph”, said Pippa. New York, New York is the first photograph you see of Norman Parkinson’s Century of Style at the National Theatre, and is only the start of an exhibition by the talented father of modern fashion photography who his subject Miss Diggle describes as “absolutely charming, a great joy to be with.”
Lifework: Norman Parkinson’s Century of Style is open at the Lyttleton Exhibition Space of the National Theatre from 1st March until 12th May.
Text: Felicity Kinsella
Photography: Courtesy of Norman Parkinson Archive. Bottom photograph: Lena Zimmer
From left. Katherine Pastrie modelling a Bernard Devaux Hat, Corbis/Norman Parkinson Ltd. Model wearing a Legroux Soeurs Hat, 1952, Corbis/Norman Parkinson Ltd. Fashion models wear a variety of hats on the roof of the Conde Nast Building against a view of the New York skyline, 1949, Corbis/Norman Parkinson Ltd. Ava Gardner, Corbis/Norman Parkinson Ltd. Adele Collins wearing a red hat, Corbis/Norman Parkinson Ltd.