Catch An Exhibition of Norman Parkinson’s Photos at the ICIA

April 26, 2012 8:34 am by
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Today, it might seem rather pedestrian to photograph a model in the African wilderness, or surrounded by the exotic locales and locals of a foreign country. In the 1930s and 40s however, this was considered rather pathbreaking; models in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were meant to be domestic paragons attending to their wifely duties indoors, not running and jumping as they did in real life. It is British photographer Norman Parkinson to whom every major fashion photographer today, from Mario Testino to Steven Meisel, owes this great debt, of unshackling fashion photography from a certain staidness and propriety.

The exhibition “Pink is the Navy Blue of India”, organised by photo collective Tasveer at the ICIA gallery in Kala Ghoda, demonstrates Parkinson’s formidable influence over his 56-year career. The show, curated by the Norman Parkinson Archive, is a mix of photos from a 1956 shoot he did in India for British Vogue and an assortment of iconic shots of Jerry Hall, Audrey Hepburn, and Parkinson’s wife, model Wenda Parkinson.

The India shots, taken all over the country from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, are remarkable less so for the clothes, than the evident nonchalance of the models in them. In one, Barbara Mullen throws her hands wide open, almost unmindful of the looming Shore temple at Mahabalipuram behind her; in another, she reposes on a boat in Kashmir, appearing to float on the waters and almost completely overshadowed by the burst of fuschia flowers next to her. In yet another, Mullen, in a single-piece bathing suit with a wide-brimmed sun hat, is shown mid-action, her foot about to perhaps propel her into standing position, from where no doubt she could have better admired the Taj Mahal in the background.

Some might take objection to certain colonial tropes—Zulu warriors dancing as a lily-white model strides forward in a winter coat—or marvel at the bizarreness of a few set-ups—like the photograph where the dainty model’s outstretched hand all but obscures the face of a Sphinx—but look past them. They were but props in a whimsical odyssey, as when Parkinson posed the 19-year-old Jerry Hall in a red bathing suit and heels atop a sculpture in the former Soviet Union (Hall had to then smuggle out the film against the orders of the Soviet government who insisted on the photos being processed in Russia). As for the show’s title, you may recognise it as the words of legendary fashion editor Diane Vreeland, who remarked upon seeing Parkinson’s India shots: “How clever of you, Mr. Parkinson also to know that pink is the navy blue of India.”