Irving Penn is one of the most respected photographers in the history and his photographs graced 158 cover pages of Vogue magazine.
Mr. Penn once stated that he does not want to be just a name and a face, so he would be delighted to know that his work is permanent inspiration to photographers all around the world. Penn was named one of the ten best photographers in the world according to Popular Photography magazine. In the 50’s he once stated; “I am professional photographer because that is the best way to earn a living and feed my family.”
His photographs are exhibited in many famous museums including Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York, Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.
Penn was a photographer with style, born in 1918, he worked for Vogue for more than 7 decades. He photographed almost everything, from fashion to movie stars, food, acts and flowers,
In his teenage years he wanted to be a painter so he enlisted in University of Arts in Pennsylvania, where his mentor and teacher was legendary art director Alexey Brodowitch. After receiving his diploma Irvnig Penn got a job as an art director in Junior League magazine, but soon he took a year off to dedicate himself to painting so he moved to Mexico. He realized he will never be more than a mediocre painter so he moved back to New York.
After few years, working as an assistant to another great art director, Alexander Liberman, Penn got a job in Vogue in 1943 where he shoots his first cover for this magazine. First of 158 that will come.
He continued to work for Vogue throughout his whole life, shooting cover pages, fashion editorials and portraits. In the 1950’s he opened his own studio and the list of clients just grew bigger and bigger. In the opening of his studio he stated that even the photographing the cakes can be considered art.
Irving Penn was the first photographer that used plain white or gray color as a background for his photographs. In this way he created some of the best portraits with Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and up to one of the greatest composers of 20th century, Igor Stravinsky.
His black and white photographs are very clean and calm, often showing entire subject with little movement but what is more important are filled with character, and they talk a lot about the person on the photography. Penn loved to experiment with his equipment and with photography methods and he always developed his own black and white photographs by himself. Penn was one of the first photographers to use the process of multiple exposures creating an image that would not be possible with a single exposure. He stayed true to his signature style despite the major shifts in photography that took place during his career.
His less known work was made in the 50’s in his European studio where he photographed common people and workers. He even traveled to Peru, Marocco, New Guinea so he could shoot the life of local tribes. This tell us a lot about his skill, interest and diversity, which are main characteristics of this great artist.
Irving Penn always stated that the good photography is the one that communicates a fact, touches hearts and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it.
If by any chance you are near Venice in Italy, visit Palace Grassi where his work is exhibited till the end of the year.