Norman Parkinson


It was absolutely empty and the guard on duty reluctantly switched on the lights and the light sitar music.
The Norman Parkison Exhibition at Tasveer Art Gallery.

It had been a long time since I stepped into an art gallery. Exhibitions seemed a little boring, particularly minus the discussions, which I could never make it to.

I had not heard of Norman Parkinson before I heard about this exhibition. Fashion photography is not something I particularly lean towards, or least did not before today.

Parkinson's photographs were quite illuminating. At first glance, it might seem like you've seen it all.
And then you realise that these photographs are at least 50 years old, shot on an analog... 35 mm? and did not have the magic of photoshop. When you add that to your perspective, things change.

I still do not know much about him other than what was on the little notice board there and what little was available on Wikipedia. But I did realise that I liked his sense of humor in photographs and the juxtaposition of his models with the stark Indian background. In some cases, it made the photograph too studied, like the one with a white model, a dark, average Indian kid with temples in the background and white pillars. The contrast seemed to stark and too strong.

My favorite were Wendy and the Cow, it conveyed humor and a sense of a memsahib on her rounds on unfamiliar grounds. I wondered about his technique... and realised that much of that format is still being followed, even if with a harder edge.

Some of that belief comes from watching some recent episodes of Next Top Model. I watch that for the photograph and often wonder what is the point of such juxtapositions. Many models and situations do not appeal to me, yet they are judged the best. Maybe I have much to learn in that area yet...
What did I learn from Parkinson?

That humor is important. Sharp lines, clean lines, the importance of background and clutter. The unreality of a situation mixed with humor can create quite an impression.

True, I probably expected more stronger photographs. But are photographs of old women, young boys and huge landscapes the only form of real art? It is easy to see the strong wrinkles of the face of a Tibetan woman, the innocent smile of a young monk, the sweeping slopes of a desert and the sting of a scorpion in sharp contrast.

Juxtaposition takes a lot more thinking, I realised, even if it isn't my thing. Several people can think about placing objects against each other. But to create an impact, it needs to have the right amount of contrast. Not shock and awe. Just an impact. Perhaps that is what Mr.Parkinson was trying to do. Perhaps even tell a story... though I felt a little pulled back into the days of the Raj with his photos. These are posed and yet make you ask why is the woman there with the umbrella in what seems to be a market? Why is the woman there with the steps and was she overtaken by the young monks? Who are the people in the boat in the background?

Were these aspects that were planned and included in the photo or just happenstance?

My love for street photography invades some ideas here... and I have to remind myself that this is a 'planned' photoshoot. But if it makes one ask such questions, is its purpose achieved? Is the purpose of fashion photography merely showcasing pretty clothes and women or creating an impact, a sense of mystery and story in that particular image?

Even if I was not blown away by his work, it was intriguing enough to bring these questions to mind. And I guess that is purpose solved.

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