Irving Penn

American, 1917—2009

About

Irving Penn

American, 1917—2009


Irving Penn’s photographs have become iconic images of an era—from his fashion and commercial editorials to his series of nudes and portraits of artists, musicians, writers, celebrities, and tribesmen of New Guinea, Peru, and Morocco. Penn first became recognized in the 1940s for his innovative photographs while working for Vogue. These groundbreaking fashion images, which emphasized elegant line and form by situating the models against spare backgrounds instead of a typically luxurious setting, established a new style in fashion photography. Penn’s celebrity sitters included many of the luminaries of the day, from Martha Graham and Marcel Duchamp, to Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Tennessee Williams, to the Grateful Dead. His pictures transcend the boundary between fashion and fine art photography. Penn revived the complex process of platinum printing on hand-coated paper, and utilized multiple coatings and exposures for added modulation and luminosity. He was equally known for this still lifes of flowers, food, and all manner of detritus—cigarette butts, discarded paper cups, and chewing gum. Penn traveled the globe photographing indigenous people in a portable studio, and producing memorable images from Africa, South America, and Paupa New Guinea. From his career spanning seven decades, numerous monographs have been published, such as Worlds in a Small Room (1980), A Notebook at Random (2004), The Small Trades (2009), and Irving Penn: Portraits (2010). His work is included in most major museum collections.