Norman Parkinson (1913-1990) was one of the great British fashion and portrait photographers of the 20th century. He brought fashion into the streets and unique locations all over the world. He helped raise the fame of models such as Celia Hammond, Grace Coddington and Jerry Hall. Hall first worked with him in 1975, when she modeled evening gowns in Versailles. It was later that year that she and Parkinson would reunite for a British Vogue editorial under the helm of editor-in-chief Beatrix Miller. It is this shoot we look at for today’s piece.
It was 1975. The location is the former Soviet Union, then a verboten Communist territory behind the Iron Curtain. The head team consisted of photographer Norman Parkinson, 18-year-old model Jerry Hall, longstanding collaborator, Grace Coddington, cosmetics artist Germaine Monteil and Parkinson’s wife Wenda, a former model herself who was writing a feature for Vogue.
Behind the scenes on the 1975 shoot in Russia. (R) Three generations of Vogue models; Wenda Parkinson, Jerry Hall and Grace Coddington.
In a recent interview for the Financial Times Magazine, Jerry Hall reflected on the shoot and the extent they would go to in order to get the shot… “He was always saying, “Climb up on that thing!” I went up on oilrigs waving giant flags, stood on a plinth in a red swimsuit in the Red Sea. He had me on a horse, bareback, in a blue dress, and the horse took off and threw me into a barbed-wire fence. I broke my tailbone and he came up and said, “You all right?” and I said, “I think so”, blood everywhere. And he said, “I thought you said you were from Texas!” He made me get right back on another horse and do the picture. The next day I was in agony, tears were rolling down my face and he was, like, “Come on, stop making such a fuss.” Eventually he did take me to the doctor, but he wasn’t very sympathetic at all. But he had the most profound effect on my modelling career and my life, as far as photographs went. His photos sort of launched me into becoming a big model in England and in America, and I met my fiancé Bryan Ferry because of those photos.”
Jerry Hall posing on a styrofoam plinth in Russia. She is wearing a red swimsuit by Martil and heeled sandals by Manolo Blahnik.
Previously, fashion magazines didn’t go to the Soviet Union at that point.
Norman Parkinson along with his team was one of the first photographers to be welcomed to the former USSR during the 1970′s. As Jerry Hall continues,
“This was in the mid-1970s and we had to travel around with tourist guides and they were taking our film. Parks was worried they might not develop the film right, so he asked me to stuff some down my pants, which I did – I was very young. Anyway, we got the film back and then he said to me afterwards, ‘Actually, the Russians developed the film even better than we did over here and we needn’t have bothered.’ "
P.S. There is a 2013 BBC4 documentary ‘ARENA, AKA: Norman Parkinson’ worth checking out. Interviews with Hall, Coddington and Carmen Dell’Orefice to name a few. There was also a recent exhibition at MAMM (the Multimedia Art Museum, Moscow) called 'Russia in Vogue'. It was dedicated to Vogue Russia's 15th Anniversary and featured images from the editorial and candid behind the scenes snaps (as shown above).
Russian engineer's helmet. Crepe de chine jump-suit, Sheridan Barnett, about £36, at Quorum. Make-up by Germaine Monteil. Scent, Bakir.