Incongruity and irony are twin themes in Pink is the Navy Blue of India, an exhibition of photographs by Norman Parkinson. The renowned British fashion photographer set haute couture shoots in unlikely settings – when he came to India in the mid-1950s, he placed models in such unusual places as the central reservoir of a temple in Chennai, a market in Aurangabad, the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid in Delhi’s Qutb complex, and against the sculpted Nandi atop Mysore’s Chamundi Hills. Other photographs are set across from the Taj Mahal or inside the capital’s Red Fort, and in Jaipur’s Amber Palace. Each of them featuring women in the finest togs – from Harvey Nichols skirts, and Susan Small chiffon work, to gold lamé ball gowns and dresses by Christian Dior, and Horrockses organza coats to Emilio Pucci swimsuits.
Depite the show’s title, the element of pink doesn't dominate Parkinson’s attempts to depict the colourful skein of Indian life in the 1950s. There is the famous photograph of Audrey Hepburn – a couple of years after she rolled up her sleeves for Roman Holiday and well before her turn in a cocktail dress of florid cerise in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – modelling an evening dress against a cascade of bougainvillea. For the most part, however, the show comprises black-andwhite selections from Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, the publications that made Parkinson as much of a celebrity as the subjects he’d been photographing. A few rare picks, from Parkinson’s stints with Queen Magazine and Town and Country, include the tasty Nena and the Sphinx with the Mexican former model Nena Von Schlebrügge (mother of the actress Uma Thurman), who was one among Parkinson’s many discoveries. There is also a snapshot of Pilar Crespi, one-time fashionworld dulcinea, striking an incomparably chic pose on the stairs of a monastery in Sri Lanka.
A quote by Parkinson, reproduced in the show’s catalogue, places his endeavours in perspective: “Any photographer who surrounds himself with a studio is doomed.”
By Jaideep Sen on April 27 2012 4.30am