Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Fashion through a Legendary Lens

Sometimes its possible to stumble across an image that you simply cannot look away from. The vibrant colours, the beauty of the subject, the setting and the overall composition - these elements can lock your gaze until you realise many minutes have passed since you first looked at it. You completely forget where you are. 

This is how I remember feeling when I first saw this photograph, taken by Norman Parkinson for the cover of Vogue in 1957.  It still has that affect on me now.

Norman Parkinson was a preeminent British photographer who went on to create a dazzling portfolio of the most elegant and creative images the fashion world has ever seen. Born in 1913 in London, he was apprenticed to a portrait photographers, Speaight and Sons Ltd., and then by the age of 21 had opened his own studio with Norman Kibblewhite. 

Shortly after, he worked for the British edition of Harper's Bazaar from 1935 to 1940, and then served as a reconnaissance photographer for the Royal Air France over France during the Second World War.  

Norman Parkinson, Trafalgar Square

He went on to contribute to many established publications throughout his successful and illustrious career, including Queen magazine, where he was contributing editor for 4 years. From 1945 to 1960, and in perhaps the most recognised and successful strand of his career, he was employed by Vogue as a portrait and fashion photographer. It was a perfectly compatible relationship and one that spawned so many iconic images.


In 1963, Parkinson moved to Tobago although he made frequent returns to his native London, and worked as a freelance photographer until his sad and premature death in 1990.

He was known as a charming, funny and very clever man. He never took a photograph without wearing his lucky kashmiri wedding hat and often appeared in his own photos.

Norman Parkinson with model Carmen Dell'Orefice in The Bahamas, Vogue Photoshoot, 1959

Grace Coddington, Creative Director of American Vogue, described Parkinson as her mentor after first meeting him on a Vogue shoot in 1971 in The Seychelles. She stayed friends with him until his death in 1990 and said that 'Parks was the father anyone would want to have'.

Parkinson also took his subjects out of the confines of his studio and into the real, and very beautiful outside world. Arguably, some of his most recognisable work comes from his photoshoot for Vogue in 1956, when the magazine opened up India for its readers nearly a decade after its independence and displayed the unimaginable beauty of this exotic location. He photographed models Anne Gunning and Barbara Mullen and produced sumptuous compositions with dazzling reds, pink and magentas that dazzled.

The beautiful images even had an impression on Diana Vreeland, Editor in Chief of US Vogue who commented 'How clever of you, Mr Parkinson, also to know that pink is the navy blue of India'.

Anne Gunning outside the City Palace, Jaipur, India in 1956

An exhibition of Parkinson's work in the form of original vintage prints is now being held at M Shed gallery in Bristol until 15 April 2012, appropriately entitled 'An Eye for Fashion, 1954 - 1964'. This will be the first time some of the images have been displayed in public. Angela Williams, who worked as his assistant in the early 1960s and a successful photographer in her own right, has carefully catalogued and researched the archive to preserve his great legacy.


Young Velvets, Young Prices, New York 1949

Carmen Dell'Orefice in Ceil Chapman gown for Vogue, 1949

Norman Parkinson revolutionised the world of British photography and the wit, warmth and elegance of his work still lives on today. He had an unwavering appetite for fashion and location photography and the also legendary Irving Penn considered his photographs as 'remarkable stills'.

I still get lost in these remarkable stills. I hope you will too.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Where Eagles Fly

Tonight Crystal Palace FC played Cardiff City in the 2nd leg of the semi-final of the Carling Cup. It featured an own goal, a sending off, gasp-inducing misses from Cardiff, some absolutely shocking decisions from the referee and a final place cruelly snatched away by penalties. I'm glad it's all over, but I had been waiting with anticipation for this game since Palace’s heady victory in the first leg at Selhurst Park a couple of weeks ago, and former slaying of the mighty Manchester United at Old Trafford back in November 2011. Sadly, we are not on our way to Wembley and my knees are all a trembly for all the wrong reasons. It hurts a lot.

You see, CPFC will always hold a very special place in my heart for many reasons. You can move the girl to the East end but the Holmesdale end will never be forgotten; a bus, a train and the Victoria Line may physically separate us but metaphorically, we're kind of attached.  

I wish I could remember the first time my Dad took me to Selhurst Park as a little girl but unfortunately it's lost in a blue and red haze. I think I must have been around 8, maybe 9 and I knew right away it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

Going to a home game was, and always will be despite our league position or the final score, a delight. A quick cuppa at the Greenbrook house in Upper Norwood (thanks Mum) always started proceedings before a drive to Grangewood Park to leave the car and a saunter to the ground alongside other expectant fans. Sometimes you could hear the stadium crowd already chanting as we made our way down Ladbrook Road and if it was an evening game, from the hill you could see the bright glare of the floodlights illuminating the sky. I always liked it when the weather was cold and brisk - wrapped up warm in hats, gloves and a vibrant red and blue scarf I never felt a chill as I held my Dad’s hand.

A quick detour over the petrol garage courtyard on Whitehorse Road for a match programme and sweets, then hurriedly past the orange glaze of the rather ugly Sainsburys and the heaving Club Shop bursting with memorabillia. A final squish through the click, click, clicking of turnstiles and suddenly I was spurted into the club's ground - a sea of red and blue bordering the centrepiece of the green pitch.

Even now, there's such a sense of energy within that red and blue community. Every time I go there, I swear I see the same programme sellers from years gone by. Ever present is Pete the Eagle (and his girlfriend in mascot-land, Alice), whose importance even merits a Twitter following @PeteEagle_CPFC

Pre-match events in recent times also involve a real Eagle taking flight around the pitch before kick off and, rather unfortunately, the Crystals, Palace’s own ‘cheerleading squad’ who were ‘brought in to inspire the players’ and even made the Metro in March 2011 when accused of affecting the team’s form. Sorry ladies, I’m sure you’re harmless and you're certainly popular with the fans, but you whiff too much of the hideous Sky Sports ‘Soccerette’ in my eyes and I do wish we could just enjoy the game.

Attendance has possibly decreased somewhat over the years, but that hasn't quietened the thunderous roar of the crowd, quashed the jumping up and down of the Holmesdale Fanatics or the playing of '25 Miles by The Three Amigos' when Palace score. Even the most prudent of fans forget themselves when the announcer leads the crowd into repeating the scorer's name loudly - Darrrrreeeen AMBROSE! etc.

It’s never an easy 90 minutes. It can be exhilariating. Surprising. Full of ups and downs. Gut wrenchingly, agonisingly painful. But it's always special. 

This little team from South London has a fascinating history. Crystal Palace Football Club was formed in 1905 by the builders of The Crystal Palace and originally played its home games at the cup final ground at The Crystal Palace. They moved to the purpose built Stadium Selhurst Park in 1924, where the team have shared the ground with Wimbledon FC and Charlton Athletic.

 Dougie Freedman, a former player, is now providing paternal leadership to both Palace's young starlets fresh out of the Academy and the experienced older players. We once walked in a Freedman Wonderland but we're now watching him lead our red and blue army hopefully to some form of success. 18 months ago we were on the brink of administration, players were playing for free and fans didn't know what the outcome would be. Now Saint Dougie nearly led the team to Wembley. An amazing feat.

Going to Selhurst Park for me is like finding a big book of memories, blowing off the dust and getting lost in the nostaligia.
Sometimes when I look over to the Holmesdale end, I imagine it's 1988 again. I can see little me and my sister Michelle at the front of the terraces with the other children, excited at the arrival of the players coming out of the tunnel and waving back at our Dad. I'm almost waiting for David 'Kid' Jensen to come out at half time and announce a competition.

Fast forward to the 1990/91 season where Palace finished an astonishing third in what was then the First Division. The squad was full of a host of greats including Nigel Martyn, Richard Shaw, Gareth Southgate, Alan Pardew, Simon Rodger, John Salako, Geoff Thomas, Mark Bright, Stan Collymore, and Ian Wright, most of whom have gone on to find fame in bigger clubs, in management or as a pundit on Sky Sports (*play extravagant fireworks noise here*)

Then, It's the 1992/1993 season and my 14th birthday is announced on the scoreboard in an opening game six-goal thriller against Blackburn Rovers. I was half embarrassed, half proud. I was 14 after all.

Add caption

In around 1995, while a student, I worked in the now defunct Club Shop on George Street in Croydon which was to be was the best job ever. Players popping in, a great work team, free kit each season and non-stop boys coming in all day. What was there not to like for a 16 year old girl? Thankfully I declined the offer to feature in the Club Shop catalogue, foreseeing the endless ribbing I would get from my husband if that ever came out from the depths of the Greenbrook actic. 

Sadly, Palace often lost, and as a passionate and rather emotional young fan I would regularly cry with disappointment. I could barely stay in my seat when an opposing player took a shot at goal, but on making another great save, my Dad would say, ‘Don’t worry Nic, Nige had it covered’ and all was good again in the world.

Nige of course was the great Nigel Martyn, Palace's star goalkeeper who broke our hearts when he left for Leeds in 1996. Nigel once inadvertently gave me a cauliflower ear while warming up before a game. He mis-kicked the ball causing it to swerve backwards, knock my drink out of my hand and simultaneously take out me and my best friend Danuta - right in the kisser. 'Sorry girls', said Nige. 'Ow', said Nicola, with possible concussion and temporary loss of hearing in one ear.

So you see, it’s not just a game of football, it’s a part of me, it's deep rooted. It’s about where I spent my childhood, the special memories it created. It’s about being with loved ones and friends who know exactly what it feels like. It’s taking pride in a perfectly nice area that gets a lot of criticism for no apparent reason other than pure snobbery. It's about being loyal to your local team through both the good and bad times (take note London Mancs) and spending the weekend looking irrationally and erratically at the Sky Sports Football Score Centre app and hoping that Jeff Stelling will tell you that Palace have won.

Yes, we moan and whine and vow half-heartedly never ever to go again/to rip up our season ticket/to support a half decent team. I repeatedly deride bloody Palace for being bloody useless and no matter if we were 5-0 up with 5 minutes to go, I’d still be nervous; there's no denying it. We don't have the money or the stature of a club like Manchester City. We get ridiculed, taunted as being boring 'Nigels' and we certainly don't always have a lot of luck. 
Yet even though my old scarf may be tattered, the corners of the 'Holmesdale - Last Stand' poster that is proudly displayed in the Greenbrook ‘Playroom’ (since refurbished, sadly, to become an outdoor storage space) may be peeling and the face paints are fading, they will always be Super Palace from Sel-hurst and will hold a special place in my heart.

As the Holmesdale Fantatics would encourage me to say, I'm Palace till I die. 

We may have lost tonight and our hearts broken once more, but I'll always be feeling Glad all Over watching this very special team.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Black Magic of Twin Peaks....

There’s something about cold winter and the deep, inky darkness that brings out the macabre in me. Mesmerised by the long, mysterious nights my thoughts easily turn to the supernatural, the sinister and the slightly surreal and who better than the inimitable David Lynch to set these atmospheric tones.

I was, and remain to this decade, an ardent Twin Peaks fan. From the moment Laura Palmer’s naked corpse was discovered wrapped in plastic on the bank of a river and subsequently FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrived in the sleepy town to investigate, I was completely hooked. 

 What begins as a murder mystery turns into a complex unravelling of lives in this small residence as Laura’s death sets off a remarkable chain of events and the quiet sleepy town falls apart at the seams.

Lynch’s work in my opinion was a TV revolution. It was complex and elliptical and interlaced with so many elements of genius that I found absolutely fascinating. I was obsessed. There are far too many strands to note in this blog post; there were 30 episodes after all and I want to hold your attention. Besides, I want you to watch the series from start to finish and become entranced yourself


The owls are not what they seem...


Firstly, I loved the utter surrealism. This was no ordinary murder mystery after all; there were eerie visions and evil spirits, a one-armed Man named Mikea dwarf in a red business suit who spoke in reversea giant who provides clues to the murderer in visions, and those dense, ominous woods that surrounded Twin Peaks and provided the setting for many of the strange, other-wordly goings on. I became entangled in those dark, dense woods just watching. 

Then there was the evil BOB who appeared in visions and absolutely terrified the heck out of me. Still does in fact - sometimes when I'm alone in the house happily reading or watching TV, an image of that grey-haired man and that grubby denim jacket suddenly pops into my head and I have to put a few more lights on, turn the music up just a little bit louder. Call my Mum. That sort of thing. 

The late Frank Silva, who played BOB, actually became a key character in the series purely by chance. When production began on the pilot for Twin Peaks, the series creators Lynch and Mark Frost decided that Laura Palmer's dad would be the murderer. It was only  during the filming of a scene in the pilot that took place in Laura's room, that Silva, a set dresser,  accidentally trapped himself in the room by moving a dresser in front of the door. Lynch, being Lynch, liked the idea of this and filmed him crouched at the foot of Laura's bed, looking through the bars of the footboard, as if he were "trapped" behind them. In fact, he liked it so much he decided to make Silva part of the series.

Later that same day, a scene was being filmed in which Laura's mother experiences a terrifying vision although the script doesn't indicate what she sees. Lynch liked the scene, but was informed by a crew member that it would need to be re-shot as a mirror in the scene had inadvertently picked up someone's reflection. That person was Silva, there was no need to re-shoot, and the rest is history. It was crazy but it was David Lynch and therefore it all made perfect sense.


Falling into the music...

There was the soundtrackcomposed by the great Angelo Badalamenti (who recently wrote the screen play for Drive) and David Lynch in 1989. It managed to be both eerie and enthralling at the same time and evoked the moods and emotions that played out so dramatically throughout the series. Apparently, in 20 minutes they produced the signature theme for the series and Lynch told Badalamenti "you just wrote 75% of the score. It's the mood of the whole piece. It is Twin Peaks". The music is characterised by haunting melodies, throbbing bass and jazz and light percussion. The theme song 'Falling' still creates goose bumps and has found its way onto my Spotify playlist along with the rest of the soundtrack.

Population 15,201...

There was the enigmatic characters – seemingly ordinary people going about their own business but really complex individuals who were hiding many secrets of their own. The esoteric Agent Dale Cooper who appeared in all of the episodes, including the pilot, was the character that stood out for me with his unorthodox investigatory methods and his love of the rural town. Lynch casted several veteran actors who had found fame in the 1950s and 1960s in the series, including film stars such as Richard Beymer who played the wealthy business man Ben Horne and was well known as playing Tony in West Side Story. Piper Laurie played the adulterous and scheming Catherine Martell who made her name in Hollywood playing alongside Ronald Regan, and British actor James Booth best known for Zulu and Coronation Street played Ernie Niles whose criminal past catches up with him in Season 2.

Most of the characters were hiding some sort of secret beneath their day to day personas, none more so than the troubled Laura Palmer, who we learn was leading a shocking double life - homecoming queen and loving daughter on the outside, cocaine addict, prostitute and manipulator in the secret life she led deep within those dark woods.  

The Women of Twin Peaks....

Mostly, I wanted to be in Twin Peaks. I wanted to live there, in that sleepy little Washington town and look like any one of those girls that made the show. I was particularly struck by the glossiness of the female characters - the sultry, beautiful girls who looked like old movie stars, were vulnerable but tough and completely bewitched all of the men that lived there. 
Sheryl Lee played the infamous Laura, with soft blonde hair, a perfect smile and sad haunting eyes that hid so many terrible secrets. 

Lara Flynn Boyle played Donna Hayward, the good-girl-turned-bad following the death of her best friend, with chestnut, tumbling curls, red lips and porcelain skin set againt soft fitted jumpers worn in muted tones. 
Audrey Horne personified the 50s glamour look that has had such a resurgence in recent times. With short black curls, dark red lips and striking eyes she mesmerised Agent Cooper with her Elizabeth Taylor looks and sultry movements.

Lana del Rey, eat your heart out.

Clever pieces of a complex puzzle....
There were many elements to the Twin Peaks story that captivated the audience beyond the series itself. The film 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me', can be viewed as both an epilogue and a prologue and provides us with an insight into the last seven days in the life of Laura Palmer. Agent Cooper's autobiography, presented as diary transcripts from his infamous tape recordings ends with the news of Laura Palmer's murder and Cooper 'Heading for a little town called Twin Peaks...' 

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer contains important clues to the identity of her killer and serves as prequel to the Twin Peaks story. In the book we discover how her inner demons drove her to use everyone around her - her best friend, her family and neighbours and mostly all those boys and men who fell under her spell. It was a fascinating glimpse into an innocent girl who became amoral and we find out exactly why she displayed such wild behaviour. It's shocking, descriptive and an absolute page turner. 

Twin Peaks sadly ended with an unresolved cliff-hanger but the magic of a series that featured murder, incest and demonic possession lives on over 25 years later in my eyes. You can see it's influence in TV and modern filmmaking, in fashion and beauty and David Lynch still continues to mystify and enthrall, recently putting his directing skills to good use in a campaign for Dom PĂ©rignon.  There are blogs (my favourite is http://welcometotwinpeaks.com/), fact-filled web pages, endless memorabilia and theres even a festival, Twin Peaks Fest, in August 2012 and held around North Bend, WA. Now that would be interesting.

I’m signing off now. It’s getting very dark outside and I can almost smell the pineferns and hear the owls flapping (although they aren’t what they seem). I’m going to pour myself a damn fine cup of coffee, turn out the lights and transport myself back to Twin Peaks, population 51,201. It may take me a while to get to sleep tonight and I’m certainly not going anywhere near the sofa, but it was all absolutely worth it. 
Laura Palmer