Irving Penn

(1917 - 2009) American


Irving Penn, born in Plainfield, New Jersey, studied with Alexey Brodovitch at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. Upon graduation in 1938, he moved to New York and worked as a freelance graphic artist. Vogue hired him to design the magazine's covers in 1943, but his work was interrupted by his wartime service as an ambulance driver. He resumed his job after the war, and contributed his own photographs for some covers. By the 1950s, Penn had become one of the magazine's prominent editorial, fashion, and portrait photographers. His collaborations with Lisa Fonssagrives, the celebrated fashion model whom he married in 1947, were especially successful. In 1952, he also began making advertising photographs in his New York studio. His work has been shown widely in exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and elsewhere. Penn has produced a number of books of photographs, including Worlds in a Small Room (1974), Flowers (1980), and Passage: A Work Record (1991), which won ICP's Infinity Award for publications in 1992.
As one of the most influential fashion and portrait photographers of the postwar era, Irving Penn has come to epitomize fashion photography of the 1950s and 1960s. During his early years at Vogue, along with Alexander Liberman, the magazine's art director, Penn developed a bold graphic sensibility that complemented Penn's chic images and embodied modern taste. His use of monochromatic backdrops of black, white, or gray, as well as his construction of the light tent--a configuration of painted white boards that allowed him complete control of natural lighting conditions--enhanced the visual simplicity of his photographs. In an era when elaborate artificial lighting was the norm, his work stood out from the rest and influenced subsequent fashion photography.
Lisa Hostetler
Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, pp. 224-25.
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