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Posts tagged ‘Bristol’

Bring the Marie Celestial to life

A performance art project to create a living, mobile spaceship – the Marie Celestial. It’s not necessarily what you expect to hear about whilst speed networking. But at a women’s business event recently, I was inspired by Juliet Webb and Ruby SoHo’s kickstarter campaign to bring an art installation to life, whilst giving young people the chance to learn new skills and unleash their creative potential.

The Marie Celestial is being hand-built by Ruby SoHo, with the assistance of a collective of emerging artists working across disciplines from welders to aerial circus acts to graphic novelists. When complete, this mechanical metal fabrication will be powered by performers and built and rebuilt in interaction with audiences at public events.

Marie Celestial kickstarter

The back story is that the Marie Celestial is a space-craft from a distant, dying planet, designed to re-propagate its species. Whilst mourning the loss of its crew, it remained hidden under the sea for generations, and now it will slowly come back to life to become a human-powered breathing, moving stage.

Ruby has vast experience in creating mechanical, art installations at major public events, including the main stage at Secret Garden Party. But the Marie Celestial is particularly exciting for her, as it’s the first project she’s devised on her own with all the creative integrity that allows – and the challenges of funding.

The catalyst for the Marie Celestial was at this year’s Burning Man Festival. Ruby worked on the beautiful Lost Tea Party installation with Alex Wreckage. From the heat haze of the Nevada desert to steamy breathes in a chilly workshop tucked away in St Phillips in Bristol, her passion and determination to make the Marie Celestial project happen is clear.

The team hope that the Kickstarter funding will help them invest in the Marie Celestial over the longer term to develop a more sustainable street theatre culture in the UK. For instance, Les Machine de l’île , a French street theatre company based in Nantes, is a huge influence, creating projects such as this impressive mechanical elephant. With a thriving scene in France, many performers are invited here as there are fewer home-grown projects, in part because of funding. The Marie Celestial team seek to turn this around and contribute to a growing, revitalised national scene.

Maquette

The project in turn will support the arts and local community through education. With Ruby’s background in training young offenders and those excluded from school, she plans to run training days and apprenticeships for young people, who may not have the money or resources, to learn these valuable skills hands-on in the workshop.

In the Kickstarter video, Ruby places emphasis on giving young women the confidence to enter realms which traditionally have been male preserves:

“I want everyone to weld, but I think that it’s a lot harder to just walk into a workshop and just try something if you’re a girl.  Certainly when I walk into a building site or any other kind of site I have to prove myself again and again and again. I just want to open that up. The best crews I’ve ever worked on have been a mixture of men and women.”

And the Marie Celestial will certainly be an inspiring project for young people to get involved in, with its imaginative story-lines and construction, including CO2 cannons to make the sails billow and flame jets. The team plan to tour the show throughout 2015, and the Marie Celestial will land first in whichever city raises the most money in the Kickstarter campaign. (Come on Bristol, get supporting!) Then a UK tour will follow with prospective performances across Europe. For me, the Marie Celestial is well-placed to seek public support as it spins around interactive participation, and sustainable development of the art form through education and evolving performances.

To help Ruby and the team unleash the Marie Celestial, check out their Kickstarter campaign which ends on 3 December. Depending on the level of investment, funders can own a limited edition graphic novel of the Marie Celestial, attend workshops or even take part in performances.

If you live in Bristol or surrounding area, you can visit their workshop when it opens to the public on Friday 28 November. Marie Celestial is taking provisional bookings for 2015 and there are opportunities for artists and performers to join the crew. To find out more watch their video, and keep up to date with progress on @4mariecelestial.

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Wearable code and physical pixels

My week has been sullied a little with a cold so I’ve not been up to much, other than watching the final episodes of Breaking Bad... Actually discovering how that epic series ends is probably quite enough for one week, but here are my other cultural treats, both playing with the virtual and the ‘real’, the digital and the tangible.

How to learn code in style

I came across this article about wearable code earlier in the week discussing how people are learning to code through fashion. Check out this video about fashion and technology (the whole video is interesting but the DIY wearables segment is at 3.30s).

The ribbon hair bow comprised simply of two LEDs and a battery is super-cute, and as Becky Stern, director of wearable technology at Adafruit Industries, says a fantastic way to encourage girls in particular to take an interest in electronics and coding. The DIY, open source ethic is alluring meaning that these wearable computing fashionistas can create their own look and share and learn from the wider community. It’s the point where craft meets code, and puts what some might see as dry computing language in a new context on our bodies, either with a use value or simply to allow its wearer to glow.

Submergence

Just as the code becomes wearable, pixels on a screen became tangible, replaced by thousands of floating lights at an installation I visited this week. Submergence is by the award-winning Squidsoup, residents at Bristol arts cinema, the Watershed‘s Pervasive Media Studio. In the exhibition space, there are over 8,000 hanging lights which change in response to the participants’ movements.

You become immersed in the changing lights, reminiscent of nature’s bioluminescence, which build to a rush of light. Yayoi Kusama’s Gleaming Lights of the Souls and her theories of self-obliteration came to mind immediately, although there is a perhaps a greater sense of losing yourself to infinity in her work through her use of mirrors.

Always a good sign, Submergence seemed to be enjoyed by all, becoming for babies and kids of all ages, a light-filled playground.

Bristol is home to Submergence’s UK première before it heads to St Petersburg. If you’re in Bristol, you can still catch Submergence on 12 October from 14.00 to 21.00.

What were the cultural highlights of your week? Go on, share with us…

Beats, portraits and tennis coats

As it’s now the weekend, here are three cultural treats of my week…

Hey Daddio, it’s Beat Girl

Swinging cats, strippers and squares all star in Beat Girl (dir, Gréville, 1960), an exploitation film revelling in the seedy side of Soho and the bad deeds of 1950s teens. The soundtrack by the John Barry Seven is the epitome of hip coffee bar cool. Just check out the entrance of the eponymous, rebellious ‘Beat Girl’, Jennifer (played by Gillian Hills) in the opening credits (and a young, zoned out Oliver Reed).

Jennifer is disgusted when her father remarries a much younger French women, Nicole, and sets out to reveal her stepmother’s murky past. One of the movie posters proclaims – “my mother was as stripper, I want to be one too”. Another warns, “this could happen to your teenage daughter”, but the moral panic offers an excuse to linger on lengthy strip scenes, explicit for the time.

The post-war generational divide is addressed awkwardly in the film, with the disaffected young men discussing their experiences of growing up during Blitz and hiding out in the underground, just like the cavernous clubs they now swing in.

In contrast, City 2000 is the obsession of Jennifer’s architect father, offering a rather sterile vision of the future, and her rebellion is a way to get attention from him. Ultimately, after she gets into danger with strip club owner (played by Christopher Lee), she is pulled back into the family unit.

While Beat Girl is not quite “over and out”, it’s worth a watch for the “straight out of the fridge” lingo, Gillian Hill’s pouty, beatnik disdain, and the recurring theme song. You dig.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012

For an afternoon treat this week, I headed to see the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition. You can explore some of the chosen photos in this gallery. This portrait photography competition received over 5,000 entries, which were narrowed down to the 60 displayed in the exhibition. There weren’t any portraits which I felt would linger with me long after the exhibition, but I enjoyed seeing the variety of contemporary photos from the famous to family, from friends of the photographers to those they met on the street. Most of the portraits were staged, whether strictly commercial or not, and often full of drama and imagined stories behind their faces.

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 M Shed

A sense of discomfort emanates from the winning portrait, Margarita Teichroeb (2011) by Jordi Ruiz Cirera, and as a viewer you wonder why the subject of the piece is covering her mouth and whether you or the photographer should be sharing this moment. Margarita is from a Mennonite community in Bolivia, living without electricity and cars, and where photography is often forbidden. The photographer spent time with them, but they were very uncertain about having their portraits taken (understandable in the circumstances). You can see blurred glimpses of her mother and sister in the background, in the context of the photo, seeming to shield themselves from the camera’s gaze. In comparison the second prize-winner, captures a woman at ease, almost incidentally naked with a chipped mug in her hand.

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2012 is on at the M-Shed in Bristol until 3 November. This year’s prize starts on 14 November until 9 February 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Tennis Coats… at last

When in Tokyo, we wanted to say “sayonara” to the city by going a gig on the final night of our holiday. One of the city’s coolest married couples, the Tennis Coats (Saya & Takashi Ueno), were playing so we headed off to see them, got a little bit lost and ended up arriving just as they were playing their last song. (We hadn’t realised that the main act plays first in Japan, but at least we got to see the support act.)

Serendipitously this week, I noticed they were playing a surprise gig at Cafe Kino in Bristol. Although both feeling a little under the weather, we knew the holiday circle had to be completed. We came away feeling more than a little warm and fuzzy. Memories of our time in Japan, combined with the lovely, mellow but energetic atmosphere the musicians created, delightful tunes and the way that random people took to the stage throughout to join the act. A perfect way to spend a Tuesday evening.

What were your cultural highlights this week?

Fix Up Look Sharp Pop-Up


tenket

Upcycled fashion at its best – the tenket. Last used perhaps to shelter revellers at a festival, now still keeping them dry, but in a little more style.

Tent and t-shirts Fix Up Look Sharp Popup

The tent was sartorially transformed by fashion label, Fix Up Look Sharp, whose upcycled and vintage fashion will be on sale today and tomorrow at Cabot Circus in Bristol. The pop-up proceeds will all go to CLIC Sargent, a charity for children and young people with cancer and their families.

Fix Up Look Sharp is run by the charity, and a large donation of tents lead to the tenkets, while other unloved, donated fabrics from bed sheets to curtains are used to create one-offs. The Fix Up Look Sharp fashion brand was created by Ruth Strugnell, fashion graduate and deputy manager of the Bishopston CLIC Sargent charity shop, and her partner Gemma Pope.

The pop-up shop got off to a flying start yesterday, opening earlier than planned with passersby keen to have a browse, and selling a tie-dye fix in the first five minutes. I attended the launch event on behalf of Bristol Ecojam, an online space to share green events, jobs and organisations in Bristol.

Fix Up Look Sharp popup shop

Upcycling is certainly a greener way to indulge in fashion. Research by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) shows that around £140 million of textiles are sent to landfill every year in the UK, around 350,000 tonnes. Reusing fabrics is cheaper than recycling, and reduces this shocking amount of waste languishing in landfills and the resultant greenhouse gases. And of course in fashion terms, upcycling means that you get a one-off so you won’t turn up to the party in the same chain store outfit.

The designers will be ready to create bespoke pieces in the store, so that you can see how the fix happens and get involved. Choose your hitherto unwanted fabrics, and go home with an original piece.

Mood board Fix Up Look Sharp popup

sweatshirts at Fix Up Look Sharp

Bikini and skirt Fix Up Look Sharp popup

The upcycled range includes playsuits, sweatshirts with reused fabrics, tie-up shirts and menswear, as well as vintage clothing, accessories and retro bric-a-brac. With the pop-up’s sunny, relaxed vibe, I couldn’t resist grabbing a vintage summer frock (which I’ll need to nip and tuck a little). Only because it’s for a good cause of course…

So if you’re in Bristol, head to Fix Up, Look Sharp’s pop-up in Cabot Circus Glass Walk One today and tomorrow. Enjoy seeking out your own upcycled outfit or vintage piece, and raise money for CLIC Sargent. Let me know what you find…

If you can’t make in person, you can still get your hands on upcycled style at asos marketplace.

Sewing machines Fix Up Look Sharp

Could Sift be the best place to work in Bristol… ?

… well I can’t say for sure (and have no scientific evidence to back this up) but I think it must be in the running after its CEO, Ben Heald, rewarded his employees in a particularly Bristol fashion.

After a quarter of beating budgets, Ben wanted to give a little something back to his employees. But coming from an innovative, creative Bristol business, he felt it needed a twist. So, all 130 of the Sift team were rewarded with a beautiful, crisp Bristol Pound tenner.

Read more on Bristol Pound’s blog…

£B10

Bristol for European Green Capital!

What do Bristol, Brussels, Glasgow, and Ljubljana have in common? They’re all in the running for European Green Capital 2015 awarded to a city on its environmental performance and capacity to inspire. Congratulations to all the cities, but only one has its own local currency and only one has you… (We’re secretly confident.)

Bristol Green Capital Bid

Read more about Bristol’s Green Capital Bid on the Bristol Pound blog.

Bristol on film – Java Head and Anna May Wong

When a film or TV series is based where you live, you can’t help but look out for places you recognise. You probably have an example of it in your own town or city. For me in Bristol, it used to be Casualty and then Being Human (I walk past the house of vampires, werewolves and ghosts everyday) but it was certainly a little surprising to see Chinese-American actress, Anna May Wong in 19th century Bristol in Java Head (1934, dir.  J. Walter Ruben & Thorold Dickinson). This British film from the 1930s has been on release from the BFI since 2011, and at last I’ve watched it.

Primarily my interest lay in the novelty of the Bristol setting (and mentions of Clifton Downs, St Mary Redcliffe, or Brandon Hill …) but actually it is worth watching in terms of its representation of the Orient(al) in film, and the effects of the East on the lives of those in the West (country).

West meets East

Java Head is a historical melodrama set in the port of Bristol in the 1850s with the title derived from the name of the family home of the shipping company, Ammidon and Sons. One of the sons, Gerrit is in love with Nettie, the daughter of his father’s rival, but as a family feud prevents marriage, he heads off for adventure on the high seas, where he is happiest. He returns with new wife, the ‘exotic’ Manchu Princess, Taou Yuen, played by Anna May Wong, which causes quite a stir in the conservative community. Just before her first appearance on screen, the youngest member of the family plays a discordant piano key, and then the camera follows each of the family members’ shocked faces. Gerrit’s father asks what she will be called – “Taou Yuen Ammidon? The two don’t go together”.

 

Java Head publicity

Wong’s character is steeped in Western representations of the East – noble, stoic and studied in Chinese philosophies, but also passive, wanting to please her husband. However for the time when ‘yellowface’ was common, it was a lead role for an Chinese actor and, at the beginning of the film, I felt that we could make a recuperative reading of the film. The town is to some extent critiqued for its hypocrisy and prejudice – we see the city gossip about the couple, but Gerrit stands up for his wife and goes against the grain of the closed-minded community.

However, ultimately the film does not allow the interracial romance to flourish. Java Head fits in with “yellow peril” discourses where the West’s desires and fears are projected onto the East, and colonial practices sanctioned. As the narrative unfolds, her husband starts to drift away from Taou Yeun, finding her ‘foreign’ characteristics repellent. In one scene he looks around their bedroom, and the camera focuses on their Chinese objects, cutting back to his disgusted expression. Gerrit tells Taou Yuen “this will never be your home… you’re so different from everything here”. Wong’s character is described as priceless and delicate, a description more suited to the cargo the Ammidons trade, and as she is a princess, her status rather than ethnicity is used at times (disingenuously) to explain their irreconcilable difference. Although Gerrit turns against Taou Yuen, the film holds him up as honourable as he regards Taou Yuen as his (Colonial) responsibility.

Nettie, the innocent, but plucky girl-next-door, is set in opposition to the more worldly, detached Taou. When Gerrit sees Taou perform a ceremony for his deceased father, he asks her to stop her ‘barbaric’ ways and questions what she is wearing. Underneath Taou’s calm exterior, the Orientalist’s essential Eastern characteristics are revealed when she tries to strangle Nettie with a mad look in her eyes. Anna May Wong’s Chinese ‘costumes’, and hair and make-up in the Peking opera style, create her as Oriental Other. In the final scene when she visits and confronts Nettie, her elaborate outfit contrasts with the English rose in a plain, pure white cotton nightdress. In the end, Taou cannot live without her husband’s love, and sacrifices herself by committing suicide so that the white couple can be together. The film acts as a warning against an unnatural mixing of cultures and reveals that although the East seems to be wise and ordered, at essence lies instability and danger.

The moral dangers of the East are also played out through the family business itself. The head of the Ammidon family has a heart attack when he realises that his other son, landlubber, William, has been trading opium. Nettie’s uncle, Edward Dunsack has just returned from China, and the Ammidon ship has carried his stash of opium to feed his addiction to the East. He worships Eastern culture, but Taou Yuen says, “China’s bad for men like him”. Edward is weak (“as pale as a Chinaman”) and easily tainted by the East, whereas Gerrit, a ‘real man’, ultimately resists. Edward sees in Taou, “all the beauty and culture of two thousand years of civilisation in one women. It takes knowledge to appreciate the full fascination of China”. But his love of the East is seen as unnatural, a sickness, and he is a reminder to Taou that she will never belong in the West.

Anna May Wong death scene Java Head

Java Head in context of Anna May Wong’s career

Java Head was Wong’s third film in Britain in 1934, along with Tiger Bay (J. Elder Wills) and Chu Chin Chow (Walter Forde). After the 1927 Cinematograph Film Act, a quota of films had to be British to counter the dominance of Hollywood films and Americanisation. With more movies being made in the UK, this provided opportunities for Anna May Wong to attain roles – and leading roles – which were not forthcoming in Hollywood. Karen Leong (2006) argues that Wong’s European cinematic performances and star persona, led to her win Hollywood parts, such as in Limehouse Blues for Paramount (Alexander Hall, 1934).

Anna May Wong PhotoPlay article about her making Limehouse Nights.

After making Tiger Bay in an interview with Doris Mackie, Anna May Wong stated:

“You see, I was tired of the parts I had to play… Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece? … We are not like that… why do they never show these on screen? Why should we always scheme-rob-kill? I got so weary of it all – the scenarist’s conceptions of Chinese character, that I told myself I was done with films forever.”

Although Wong goes on to say that her character in Tiger Bay is a more accurate representation of Chinese people, from our contemporary perspective, the narrative of this film follows a similar pattern to Java Head. Western colonisation is justified through a Chinese, exotic character, who, although seems to be on the side of the British Empire, has a murderous heart and must sacrifice herself so the young, white heterosexual couple can be happy. However, Wong’s critique of Hollywood as racist suits the British feeling against American imperialism, and also helps to cover their own colonial guilt.

The Motion Picture Production (Hays’) Code in America, which began to be enforced more strongly after 1934, prevented miscegenation, so kissing between different races was forbidden. Java Head was the only film where Wong kissed a male actor (her kissing scene from Piccadilly [Ewald André Dupon,1929] was cut).  However, even at the time, one reviewer stated that Java Head “chiefly serves to introduce the most famous object in the museum, the daughter of a Chinese mandarin (Miss Anna May Wong)… making an engaging contrast with the homely Bristolware”. There is a patriotic parade during Java Head for the Queen’s birthday where Gerrit and Nettie realise that they are in love, but Taou Yuen is absent illustrating that the East cannot fit into the British home.

A natural sacrifice

For contemporary audiences, as soon as Gerrit starts flirting with Nettie, you know that it’s over for Anna May Wong. Java Head may leave a bitter taste as she sacrifices herself so that the white couple can sail happily off into the sunset, to visit new lands, but stay British.

Gerritt and Nettie in the final scene of Java Head.

Have you seen Java Head or any other Anna May Wong movies? Let me know what you thought.

Further reading:

Leong, Karen J., (2006) “Anna May Wong and the British Film Industry” in “Quarterly Review of Film and Video (23, pp 13-22)

No Borders – the post-Christmas antidote

My suggestion for the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas bulge? A trip to No Borders

No Borders: contemporary art in a globalised world is an exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which pulls together artists from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to explore global stories from local perspectives. Reflections on the local and global seem particularly timely in the aftermath of Christmas with its consumer frenzy for stuff and more stuff made miles away with little connection to their location of production, or purchased online in seemingly non-spaces. Having Bristol as the site of this exhibition puts a twist on it, where city initiatives are helping to rethink the local and global with creative projects, such as Bristol Pound which encourages us to shop and spend locally with the city’s own currency. The pieces in No Borders, which have been purchased through the ArtFund, are themselves part of a global trade network, and open up a dialogue about our global interconnections, shared histories and conflicts as well as Bristol’s economic and cultural place as an international trading city. 

Ai Weiwei

In Ai Weiwei’s A Ton of Tea, Pu’er tea, drunk by ordinary folk in China (and named after the trading post for dark tea in Imperial China) has been dried and compressed into a block as though it were being packed for export. In this minimalist, witty piece, the everyday and ubiquitous are transformed into a precious object to be looked at and tiptoed around in the gallery space, which raises its commercial price as well as cultural value. (At another exhibition, Ai Weiwei said of it “don’t touch it or you’ll have to drink it”.) So this new museum acquisition is put into conversation with the more traditional Chinese objects collected by the museum, questioning what constitutes ‘art’ from China for Western galleries and how the Chinese nation has been constructed through these traditions. In another well-known work, Ai Weiwei plays with similar political and cultural themes, creating Duchamp-like ready-made vases and purposely dropping a prized Ming vase offending the antiquities trade not only in China, but globally.

Questioning the role of art culturally, politically and commercially is certainly a theme of the exhibition with the contemporary works set in the traditional gallery space of the blue damask patterned wallpaper and placed in dialogue with those in the permanent collection of Chinese ceramics and Indo-Persian miniature paintings. 

Imran Qureshi

The Mughal tradition of miniature painting is given a contemporary twist by Pakistani artist, Imran Qu’reshi. This Leprous Brightness makes the blood from a reported incident of violence into beautiful foliage. In the video below you can see Qu’reshi’s imagery of flowers/blood seep from the stones in a site-specific piece. 

The creation of nationhood, history-making and the mass media are explored by Shilpa Gupta in her piece, In Our Times – Singing Mobile Microphones. The speeches of Jinnah and Nehru at the time of Independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947 are played through two swinging microphones. Annotated versions of the speeches hang at either side behind the installation indicating that Nehru’s speech was more prepared for ‘history’ with memorable quotes (“At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”) compared to Jinnah’s more practical prose. (“Dealing with our first function in this Assembly, I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement at this moment, but I shall say a few things as they occur to me.”) The microphone swings up and down as power shifts from one leader to another, as regimes come in and out of favour. The see-saw of history illustrates the way that nations are constantly in flux and with conflicts still unresolved.

Shilpa Guptta: Singing Mobile Microphones

In Berlin-based Korean artist, Haegue Lang’s work Holiday for Tomorrow the private/public, holiday/work, insider/outsider are explored through an installation of pretty coloured Venetian blinds and traditional Korean bamboo blinds or hanoks. The blinds were used to allow women to see out into the public world of men whilst remaining private in the domestic. Here we can peek through the blinds as voyeurs but also always be partially seen as we wander the exhibit.

Haegue-Lang BlindsIn the exhibition space fans flutter the blinds evoking a holiday mood, whilst the video narrates about the world of work evoking the repetitive nature of many occupations, for instance opening shop shutters each day (which you can see pictured in the still below). Ultimately, perhaps holidays only function to make us refreshed for work.

Haegue Yang Unfolding Places
Walid Raad describes his work as “reigniting our curiosity in truth”. A fictionalised foundation, The Atlas Project, is his mechanism to interrogate the truth of the history-making, specifically of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). By gathering, sorting and thus knowing the evidence both written and produced by visual media, those with power create the ‘truth’ of the manifold stories involved. The “regimes of truth” (in Michel Foucault’s terms) created by institutions such as the Museum are brought into question in Raad’s miniature version of a gallery (pictured below).

Walid Raad / The Atlas Group

No Borders, run in partnership with the Arnolfini, is on until 2 June 2013 and if you are in Bristol I would recommend it. I headed off there after hearing that there was an Ai Weiwei piece but actually there are a variety of works worth seeing in this well-curated show.

If you’re not able to make it, I hope that you can check out of some of the artists’ work. You can download pdfs about the artists and some of the key themes. Let me know your thoughts.

An Eye for Vintage Fashion – Norman Parkinson

Eye for Fashion M-Shed, Bristol

What a lovely way to spend a Saturday. Lie in. Awake late to snow. Perfect chance to wear new 1960s style swing coat, faux fur hat and hand-warmer (crafted by my talented friend at Come Step Back in Time) Then off to An Eye for Fashion to see glamorous 1950s and 1960s fashion photos in a pretty, pastel-shaded space…

An Eye for Fashion at M Shed in Bristol (UK) focuses on influential fashion photographer, Norman Parkinson’s shots of British Designers from 1954 to 1964 as featured in Vogue and Queen magazines. Visitors can follow the intertwined fashion and societal changes from the austere 1950s though to the swinging 1960s, illustrating the shifts in lifestyles being sold to women through these magazines.

The show is a collaboration between the Angela Williams Archive and the M Shed. Sixty rare prints were chosen from the archive, many of which have not been displayed before. Angela Williams, a successfiul photographer in her own right, enjoyed a creative partnership with Parkinson starting in 1962 when she became his assistant.  The M Shed delves into its collection of vintage fashion to complement the photos on display so that we can see how the designer looks played out on the high street.

Vitality, cheekiness and 1960s optimism abound in the shots. Parkinson is well known for taking fashion photography out of the stuffy studio to outdoor locations in dockyards, streets and alleys as well as exotic locations. Parkinson said, ‘My aim was to take moving pictures with a still camera.’ (An Eye for Fashion catalogue) As fashion photography is of the moment, it is wonderful that these images have been preserved for future generations, especially the photos that didn’t make the final cut for the magazines.

The catalogue tells us that Norman Parkinson liked to take photos of ‘real’ women rather than ‘ice queen’ debutantes. Taking a different sense of ‘real’ women, as someone who buys Vogue as a guilty pleasure, it was interesting to see the way in which the models did indeed look more natural here and less ‘fake’ than their modern photo-edited versions.

10 years is a long time in fashion…

The 1950s  fashion magazine shots on display are targeted at the Vogue reader of the time – older, affluent middle class women. The photos reflect this with images of Ladies, “Mrs so and so” shopping, parties in stately homes, and twinsets and pearls. The aspiration is to be like these upper/upper-middle class women with their glamorous, champagne lifestyles. To complement, these shots, we see fashions of the day. A hyper-feminine, lacey pink prom dress with fitted bodice and full skirt caught my eye, which you could imagine a contemporary girl toning down with sneakers. Another display features two suits with fitted waists and calf length straight skirts – a common 1950s silhouette. Very ‘ladies who lunch’.

Swinging sixites

Then the swinging 1960s arrive – less Hardy Amies, more Mary Quant and Jean Muir. This decade saw shorter hemlines, nylons, bolder colours replace restrictive hemlines, stockings and dressing like your mother. The iconic shot used on the catalogue of Jean Shrimpton epitomises the decade’s cool confidence. Musicians start to appear in fashion shoots; see ‘How to kill five stones with one bird’ featuring Nicole de la Marge in Mary Quant with the Rolling Stones. From the M Shed’s archives, they pull out a cool Mary Quant style raincoat (which I would wear) and a psychedelic monochrome top (which interestingly feels more dated).

Jean-Shrimpton---Plain-Girl-campaign---Norman-Parkinson-catagloue

There is an energy and excitement in the photos and a cheeky sense of wit but also an innocence. Take Jill Kennington and Melanie Hampshire chatting to London bobbies on the beat (see a similar photo from the National Portrait Gallery) – Parkinson’s commission for Life Magazine in 1963 to promote Brit style state-side. You can imagine that these young women had just arrived in the big city intent on making their way in the world.

Another shot I love is a Daks advert in Vogue, 1961. The model is posed side-saddle on the cool mode of transport at the time, a vespa with leopard skin head scarf, tight cream skirt and tie blouse completed with ankle boots. A vintage style which could easily be given a 2012 twist.

If you have an interest in vintage fashion or social history, it’s well worth giving this exhibition a visit. An Eye for Fashion is on at the M Shed in Bristol until 15 April 2012. I’m in for the Vintage Weekend on 24 and 25 March. Hope to see you there!

Watch the private view and take sneak peek at the exhibition!