Irving Penn is an American photography artist born in New Jersey, in America. He specialised in fashion and glamour, portraits, photojournalism and still life photography. He is best known for his advertisement work for Vogue Magazine, Clinique and Issey Miyake, as featured below.
Penn attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Art from 1934 till 1938, were he studied under Alexey Brodovitch, who was a Russian born photographer, designer and instructor famous for the art direction of a fashion magazine called ‘Harper’s Bazaar’.
He travelled to Mexico and attempted to be a painting artist in his early days but decided that was not the life for him. He returned to New York were he was introduced to Alexander Liberman at Vogue Magazine and worked as his assistant producing mainly photographic covers for their front page. Liberman had faith in Penns talents when others did not think much of his work, so he set Penn a challenge to take his own series of photographs. Penn produced a set still life images consisting of his brown leather bag, a beige scarf and gloves, some oranges and tapas which catapulted him into fame after they were published on Vogue Magazine’s front page, in 1943. He was imaginative and inventive with his work, branching out in several different areas, such as editorial illustration, advertising, photojournalism, portraits, still life, travel and television.
His portraiture work was heavily influenced by Walker Evans (1903-1975), an American photographer most famous for work for his work on the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression.
He was also inspired by documentation of domestic detail by French photography artist, Eugene Atget, (1857-1927), best known for documenting street scenes and architecture in Paris.
He used numerous portrait techniques, one consisted of using two backgrounds to form a corner for the subject. Penn’s own words “A means of closing people in. Some people felt secure in this spot, some felt trapped. Their reaction made them quickly available to the camera”.
It was in the 1950’s when Penn owned his own studio, also marrying Lisa Fonssagrives around the same time who was a leading fashion model, producing nearly all of her future photographs.
Penn continued with fashion, commercial and personal work for the rest of his life, sadly passing away in 2009. The Irving Penn Foundation was later created in his memory to provide knowledge of his work and preserve his legacy.
Szarkowski, J. (2001) Irving Penn, Still Life. USA: Little, Brown and Company.