Lifework: Norman Parkinson’s Century of Style

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Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style

Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style

Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style

Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style

Norman Parkinson was one of the greatest and most enduring fashion and portrait photographers of the 20th Century. He was an innovator who changed the face of both genres: eschewing the stiffness of the time, his images capture life, spontaneity and character. He photographed everyone from movie stars to models, rock’n’rollers to royals, in an impressive career spanning six decades.

The legendary photographer is subject of a new retrospective at the National Theatre, ‘Lifework: Norman Parkinson’s Century of Style’, which coincides with the centenary of his birth this month. The exhibition traces the photographer’s lengthy career from his first forays into fashion before World War Two to shots taken shortly before his death in 1990.

Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style

Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style

Lifework: Norman Parkinson's Century of Style

This collection of Parkinson’s most striking images makes it clear why many consider him the father of modern fashion photography. So many of his creations could leap from the pages of a magazine today…

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Daughters of the Dust

I recently gave a talk at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts about the film Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash. It is an amazing film – it is definitely in my Top 10 list of all time favorites. So I thought I would share this recent video about the Gullah who are the formerly enslaved Africans featured in the film.

Slave Descendants Uphold African Roots

Family histories and interwar black history

I am tracking this project closely as this is a related sphere to my research on the US and France that has yet to receive much attention.

Drawing over the Colour Line: Geographies of art and cosmopolitan politics in London, 1919 - 1939

As our recent blog post shows, our contact with Nyay Bhushan, the great grandson of Vasu Deva Sharma, has been a fantastic opportunity for us to find out about Sharma’s migratory history and learn more about Sharma’s experiences of life as a Royal College of Art student in interwar London. We’ve created a select list of students and artist’s models all based in London during the period we are researching. If you have any information, no matter how small, about any of these individuals or the artworks they created please feel free to contact us at equianocentre@ucl.ac.uk

Students from Africa and Asia at London-based art schools:

  • Egyptian student Aimee Nimr at Slade School of Fine Art School of Fine Art during 1919
  • Nigerian student Aina Onabolu at St. John’s Wood Art School during 1922
  • Indian student Meher Bomansha Dalal at the Slade School of Fine Art School of Fine Art…

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Black Ops

My CAA talk went very well according to the feedback that I received. I focused on how shadows assumed a new expressive role as a racial metaphor in modernist photography. I previously shared some of the images that I was considering. Here are some of the ones that were included in my presentation:

A made particular note of the fact that shadows ultimately acquired their own autonomy in images like this:

Ruby Keeler

Shadows take on a life of their own in the jazz age

Anyone trying to study the role of shadow in visual representation will not find much. Victor Stoichita and Michael Baxandall have written books on the topic, plus a few articles exist. That is why I am eagerly anticipating the publication of a new book called The Cinema and Its Shadow by Alice Maurice. Not only does it deal with shadows and race, it focuses on light-based media and its formal qualities:

Moving beyond analyzing race in purely thematic or ideological terms, Maurice traces how it shaped the formal and technological means of the cinema.

This is how I approach the photographic medium. The inherent nature of the medium and its means of formal expression relies upon a race for its coherence.

I am still working on my presentation for CAA. I came across this interesting photograph of Ruby Keeler, a dancer, and one-time wife of Al Jolson, with a dance partner:

Image

Note how the shadows operate independently of the people they are meant to reflect as in Fred Astaire’s “Bojangles in Harlem” number in Swing Time (1935) that I have mentioned in an earlier post.

In praise of shadows…

It’s CAA time and I am participating in a panel called “Photography and Race.” My talk is about race and modernism in interwar photography. One key phenomenon that I have noted is that lighting and shadow take on a metaphoric role beyond their descriptive function that gives visual expression to the period’s racial imagination in new ways. Older notions of race as biology and blackness and whiteness as material properties of the body are supplanted with more elusive codes that reside in the darkness and the light. That is not to say that move traditional means of visualizing race entirely disappear but the burden of representation is removed from the body in subtle but significant ways that allow for the articulation of changing racial paradigms. The preponderance of these shadows that limn blackness makes it difficult to select which images to show in my fifteen minutes. What a dilemma! Here are some of my current objects of fascination:

Happy New Year!

AMW 4-20-32 MNY17476

This is a portrait of the actress Anna May Wong in tuxedo drag taken by Carl Van Vecthen in 1932. This image is the cornerstone of the introduction to Afrochic, the magnum opus that I hope to complete soon. I argue that this type of photographic portrait and its attendant racial dynamics is emblematic of the ways that moderns constructed their identity between the Two Worlds Wars. Intrigued…stay tuned!

Since I will never be able to include all the images that I would like into the final manuscript, I will share some of my favorites here as I work towards the completion of the manuscript.

The Hobby Horse

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This empty lot at 205 West 136th Street is the site of a former bookstore and cafe that catered to the black avant-garde. I just learned that my great-aunt went there back in the day. So thrilling!

Postcards and Bloomsbury black history walking tour leaflets

This is an topic that I am very intrigued by. I am familiar with a couple of black entertainers that spent time in London during the Jazz Age (i.e. Paul Robeson, Florence Mills…) but I had not previously come across research on blacks who were members of the Commonwealth who lived in London during this period in the manner that Black Paris and the Negro Colony is discussed. Of course we have learned that black jazz entertainers circulated throughout Europe but that information is elusive at best. So I hope that this project endures and flourishes.

Of course if a lot of information were available I would want to include it in my book and I already have too much information to contend with dealing with New York, and its satellite in Paris (with a bit of a detour to Hollywood, and even Taos…)

Nancy Cunard is the main figure of English origin included in my dramatis personae but she spends most of this time based in Paris. I am trying to restrict myself to the Man Ray portraits of her but there are some important photographs by Cecil Beaton and Curtis Moffat that will require a mention. I justify their inclusion because of the network of fashion/celebrity/glamour photographers that Man Ray is part a of, with an obligatory connection to Carlo (Carl Van Vechten–he knows everyone LITERALLY).

Anna May Wong spends time in London but it is the portraits taken by Carlo and her Hollywood experiences that are most concern to me. (At present…)

Drawing over the Colour Line: Geographies of art and cosmopolitan politics in London, 1919 - 1939

We’ve recently created the first of a series of postcards and maps highlighting some of the artwork and histories which touch upon the themes of Drawing over the Colour Line. The postcard created is a reproduction of William Roberts’ 1923 The Creole, a portrait of a woman called Hélène Yelin who lived near Bloomsbury and was a friend of the Roberts  family – we’ll be blogging more about her in the next few months. We’ve also used this image as the front of our new walking tour leaflets entitled ‘A Walk Around Bloomsbury’.

The tour explores the black presence in Bloomsbury during 1919-1939 in relation to London’s artworld and focuses on places and spaces connected to individuals and organisations including African-American musician and performer Florence Mills, artists Nina Hamnett and Duncan Grant who created artworks depicting Black Londoners, Harold Moody, Jamaican doctor and President of the League of Coloured Peoples set…

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Sammy Davis Jr. Performing Mr. Bojangles

To follow my earlier post, a performance by the master:

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