Irving Penn (June 16, 1917
October 7, 2009) was an American photographer known for his portraiture and fashion photography.
Irving Penn studied under Alexey
at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art
(now the University of the Arts) from which he was graduated in
1938. Penn's drawings were published by Harper's Bazaar
and he also painted. As his
career in photography blossomed, he became known for post World War
II feminine chic and glamour photography.
Penn worked for many years doing fashion photography for Vogue magazine
, founding his own
studio in 1953. He was among the first photographers to pose
subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop and used this
simplicity more effectively than other photographers. Expanding his
austere studio surroundings, Penn constructed a set of upright
angled backdrops, to form a stark, acute corner. Posing his
subjects within this tight, unorthodox space, Penn brought an
unprecedented sense of drama to his portraits, driving the viewer's
focus onto the person and their expression. In many photos, the
subjects appeared wedged into the corner. Subjects photographed
with this technique included Martha
, Marcel Duchamp
, Pablo Picasso
, Georgia O'Keeffe
, W. H. Auden
While a master of the studio flash, most of Penn's portraits are
lit with window light. For travelling to New Guinea and other locations to photograph indigenous
people, Penn created a portable studio with a skylight deployed
facing north with impressive results.
These pictures had the
same feel as his portraits of celebrities; fully adorned, naturally
lit, yet placed before the neutral backdrop, his tribal subjects
appear as strangely defined models for a 19th-century ethnographic
In 1950, Penn married his favorite model, Lisa Fonssagrives
, who died in 1992. They
had one son together, designer Tom Penn.
Penn's younger brother is movie director, Arthur Penn
Clarity, composition, careful arrangement of objects or people,
form, and the use of light characterize Penn's work. Penn also
photographed still life
in unusual arrangements
with great detail and clarity.
While his prints are always clean and clear, Penn's subjects varied
widely. Many times his photographs
so ahead of their time that they only came to be appreciated as
important works in the modernist canon years after their creation.
For example, a series of posed nudes whose physical shapes range
from thin to plump were shot in 1949-1950, but were not exhibited
His still life compositions are skillfully arranged assemblages of
food or objects; at once spare and highly organized, the objects
articulate the abstract interplay of line and volume.
He has published numerous books including the recent, "A Notebook
at Random" which offers a generous selection of photographs,
paintings, and documents of his working methods.
permanent collection of the Smithsonian
American Art Museum possesses a silver gelatin print of Penn's The
Tarot Reader, a photograph from 1949 of Jean Patchett and
surrealist painter Bridget
Penn Archives, a collection of personal items and materials
relating to his career, are held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the
Art Institute of
53 photos were shown in a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
In many of these prints, the subjects
appear sculptural and like a primitive Venus. The graphic detail
and clarity of his images would not have been possible to put on
display in earlier years.
2005, Penn's work was shown at the National Gallery
of Art in Washington,
DC in an exhibit titled "Irving Penn: Platinum
Between January and April 2008, 67 portraits are shown at the
Morgan Library & Museum in New York City in an exhibit titled
September 2009, the J. Paul Getty Museum plans to exhibit the most extensive collection of
Irving Penn's works. The Small Trades
collection of 252 full-length portraits
Penn from 1950 to 1951. Penn's subjects were from New York, Paris, and
Irving Penn died aged 92 on 7th October 2009, at his home in
- "Photographing a cake can be art" —Irving Penn.
Books by Penn
- (2004) A notebook at Random (ISBN 0-8212-6192-4)
- (2004) Photographs of Dahomey (ISBN
- (2001) Still Life (ISBN 0-8212-2702-5)
- (1999) Drawings (ISBN 0-9665480-0-0)
- (1999) The Astronomers Plan a Voyage to Earth (ISBN
- (1999) Irving Penn Regards The Work of Issey Miyake
Books about Penn
- (2009) Irving Penn: Small Trades (ISBN
- (2005) Irving Penn: Platinum Prints. Sarah Greenough,
David Summers (ISBN 0-300-10906-7)
- (2002) Earthly Bodies: Irving Penn's Nudes, 1949-50.
by Irving Penn, Maria Morris Hambourg, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- (1997) Irving Penn : A Career in Photography. Colin
Westerbeck (ISBN 0-8212-2459-X)
- The Tarot Reader (Jean Patchett and Bridget
Tichenor) - New York 1949 by Irving Penn SAAM
- NY Times obituary by Andy Grundberg, October 8,
- Washington Post obituary by Adam Bernstein and T.
Rees Shapiro, October 8, 2009
- quoted from