Norman Parkinsons’s A Very British Glamour event

Although this exhibition has been and gone I still feel it’s worthwhile reviewing in an attempt to highlight how good the Somerset House events can be. It’s definitely worthwhile keeping up to date with what’s on, as shows can easily pass you by. Somerset House is also particularly appropriate for fashion lovers as it often features exhibitions along the fashion lines including past events like ‘Skin and Bones’, which studied the relationship between fashion and architecture. It is also of course the new venue for London Fashion week.

Norma Parkinson was a celebrated fashion photographer with years of experience in the industry. He started out his career as an assistant and set up his own studio by the age of 21. He worked for Vogue from 1945-1960 and has been credited with taking fashion photography out of the studio and into the urban environment. His photography made fashion more spontaneous and dynamic than it was previously, his use of colour giving the work a timelessly modern feel.

A photographer without a magazine behind him is like a farmer without fields. – Norman Parkinson

The signature of his work is the humour and creative use of outdoor locations; especially his travel shoots for various high fashion magazines including Harper’s Bazaar. Norman was married to celebrated fashion model Wenda Parkinson who features in several of the exhibition’s photographs and she truly depicts how glamorous life was in the past. His photography is often compared to the paintings of John Singer Sargent due to the lifestyles that both artists depict. A great deal of Parkinson’s photographs are set in highly decadent surroundings and often shot in the grounds of sprawling country estates.

This quality makes the photography perfect for the galleries of Somerset House as the large format prints are positioned in between hanging chandeliers and exquisite Victorian cornicing. The gallery itself is relatively small and this particular exhibition was spread across three or four rooms. Unfortunately, each print was hung slightly too low for my eye level and the combination of glossy finish and highly shining glass meant that some images were difficult to take in from certain angles.

The only thing that gets in the way of a really good photograph, is the camera. – Norman Parkinson

The photographs themselves were as expected, immaculately produced and the large print sizes meant you truly see the work in a unique way. Prints and an exhibition book are available to buy, as is common place at Somerset House exhibitions. The images themselves were a good selection of Norman Parkinson’s work and clearly represented all the various stages of his career, including wartime black and white photographs and breathtaking travel shots for Vogue. In particular, the images illustrated how Parkinson challenged existing boundaries and truly depicted clothes and how they should be worn. His positioning of models in relaxed poses is stunning to see and really sells the clothes and lifestyle to the audience. His photography also reminds me of Henri Cartier Bresson as both works showcase the spontaneity of life and appear like passing moments that have been perfectly captured.

Personally, I felt that this particular exhibition lacked some biographical information and that facilities such as the Somerset House café were rather expensive. However, the location of Somerset House makes for an excellent visit – it is smack bang in the middle of touristy London’s embankment and can be most easily reached from Trafalgar Square station or Temple.