The Age of Innocence: Norman Parkinson's photographs at Dimbola Lodge, Isle of Wight

By Nick Owen | 07 April 2011
a photo of a woman skipping with two children
© Norman Parkinson Ltd
Exhibition: The Age of Innocence: Norman Parkinson's Photographs, Dimbola Lodge, Isle of Wight, until July 3 2011

Once referring to himself as “The world’s most famous unknown photographer”, Norman Parkinson (1913-1990) left an indelible mark on the world of fashion photography.

Full of spirited wit, his "still, moving pictures" set the fashion world ablaze in the post-war years, where previously, according to Parkinson, “all the girls had their knees bolted together.”

Exploiting the elements of chance, his technique of "action realism", conjuring images out of the unexpected, was seen as a breath of fresh air to a world of fashion photography previously set in ghostly-lit studios.

Despite operating in the high-fashion worlds of Vogue and Queen magazines in the 1950s and 1960s, Parkinson was also continually drawn to the carefree innocence of children throughout his career.

For this show, co-curators Fay Weldon and the Angela Williams Archive unveil rare and unseen images by Parkinson, capturing a lost era when childhood was an optimistic and untarnished experience.

The exhibition is the first themed show from the Angela Williams Archive, run by Williams herself who, as Parkinson’s former assistant, was present when many of the photographs were taken.

a black and white photo of a child pushing a bouqet of flowers into the face of a female model sat in wicker beach chair
© Norman Parkinson Ltd
Set in Dimbola Lodge on the Isle of Wight, the home of Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, the choice of venue is particularly apt.

According to Williams, Parkinson had a passionate enthusiasm for Cameron’s work. Enchanted by her images of children portraying a romantic innocence, her work had a lasting impact on his own photography within the genre.

In the age of Facebook and Skype, where you can expect to be captured on CCTV countless times a day, children are developing in a world where image consciousness is akin to learning their times tables.

Viewing these unseen photographs in this age of lost innocence is what makes Parkinson’s photography so intriguing, says Weldon.

According to her, it was Parkinson’s background in photojournalism that led to these striking images, where “the child is casual, the picture instant, yet the form severely composed.”

The exhibition features a number of rare Parkinson silver prints taken between 1950 and 1965.

Vintage prints from the 1979 book, Sisters Under the Skin, will also be exhibited, including previously unseen images of Stella McCartney as a child.

  • Open 10am-5pm. Admission £4/£3.50 (free for under-16s).
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