An Eye For Fashion: Norman Parkinson exhibition @ M Shed

Norman Parkinson Life magazine 1963
Norman Parkinson, Life magazine, 1963

I must confess that I haven’t actually explored M Shed further than its bloomin’ tasty cafe – raspberry and white chocolate muffins, need I say more? – and 2nd floor gallery space, for a Martin Parr retrospective. I went to the later again this week, to see Mshed’s latest exhibition, An Eye For Fashion, featuring original vintage prints by the late, great Norman Parkinson.

Parkinson was a British fashion and portrait photographer who shot for Vogue, Queen and Life (among others) over a career spanning almost 60 years. He was truly a revolutionary in his field and is cited as an inspiration by many photographers, fashion editors and designers today, so it is wonderful to see his work, on loan from the Angela Williams Archive, here in Bristol. The exhibition features rare prints of Parkinson’s fashion stories, notably from the 1950s and 1960s, that feature the likes of Jean Shrimpton, Vicky Stevens and Enid Boulting.

To bring relevance to its local surroundings, An Eye For Fashion aslo features high street clothes from the 50s and 60s, as well as photos and descriptions of how Bristol’s shopping hub, Broadmead, was evolving during this period. It provides a stark contrast to the Broadmead that exists today, overshadowed by Cabot Circus and slowly wilting, drowning in shop closures and unsavory characters.

I was surprised to find the waist-cinching elasticated belts I wore in my late teens were actually copied from mid-century ‘waspie’ belts, and I found myself comparing more candid snaps, like the one above, an unused shot for Life magazine, to the kind of poses that crop up on my Facebook news feed. There were of course many glamourous photos, such the Vogue image of a model in an elegant evening gown from 1960, at the back of the exhibition. It was here that I overheard to older ladies recounting their own experiences of a ripped dress at a fashion function around the same time – it sounded like quite the scandal!

Norman Parkinson for Queen magazine
Norman Parkinson for Queen magazine, 1960

As well as the exhibition, which would delight photographers and fasionistas alike, I also took the time to wander around the harbourside and soak up the sunshine – a rare treat for Bristol at this time of year!

The harbourside comes alive in summer, and there was a hint of this on Wednesday, with an ice cream van parked outside M Shed, two school girls bunking off under the Balmoral to eat their lunch, and an accordionist playing by the bridge. It may only be March, but with the lighter evenings and (slightly) warmer weather, I feel like spring is just around the corner. I couldn’t resist taking a few photos on my phone, the results of which are below.

M Shed An Eye For FashionM Shed museum Bristoledit Mshed1Bristol harboursideBristol Harbourside

An Eye For Fashion runs at M Shed until 15th April, entry costs £5/4 bit is free on the last Wednesday of each month. For more info about visiting the exhibition click here. There is also the M Shed Vintage Weekend coming up, which looks awesome, and is happening 24th-25th March. 

Norman Parkinson images sourced here.



  1. March 2, 2012 / 4:39 pm

    Such a great review…I hope I can visit this before it ends, I could do with a bit of glamour in my life. It makes me so happy that the cold, short, dark winter days are coming to an end. All it takes is a bit of sunshine to make me smile x

  2. March 2, 2012 / 5:12 pm

    I used to live near where you took the last photo :)! I loved Broadmead when i lived in Bristol, although I have to say I went to Cabot Circus more, I feel Cabot Circus has better shops, and the cinema is amazing! I’ve never heard of Norman Parkinson before but his work sounds amazing, it’s great how they made it relevant to bristol by showing broadmead in the 50’s and 60’s as well. xx

    • March 4, 2012 / 3:53 am

      I love the cinema too! Cabot Circus is way better than Broadmead, but even that has seen shop closures and I dont think it’s filled all it’s units either. x

  3. March 2, 2012 / 5:19 pm

    I’m hoping to go on Thursday to this. I will let you know what I think xx

  4. March 3, 2012 / 9:01 pm

    I haven’t explored M Shed yet either, I think I shall head along to this.

  5. March 4, 2012 / 3:51 am

    I would definitely recommend it guys, his photos are so amazing. Plus, if it’s sunny you could even have an ice cream – that ice cream van seems to be there come rain or shine : )

  6. March 4, 2012 / 12:45 pm

    What an amazinglooking exhibition! I love Norman Parkinson’s photography, and I totlly see what you mean about the candids lookin like the photos my friends and I take. Guess history always repeats itself no matter how original we think we are!

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