Irving Penn was an American photographer born in 1917 in New Jersey and died in 2009. He is recognized for still life, portraits and fashion photography. Penn went to the Philadelphia Museum School for Industrial Art between 1934 to 1938. Over there he studied painting, drawing, industrial arts, and graphics by his instructor Alexey Brodovitch. During this time, Harper’s Bazaar published many drawings made by Penn.
He replaced Brodovitch at the Saks Fifth Avenue as the art director in 1940, after working for two years as a designer on freelance basis. He remained there for one year and then spent some time photographing and painting in Mexico and United States.
In the 1950s, in New York, Irving Penn opened his personal studio and began doing commercial photography. His client’s list kept growing and it included De Beers, Clinique, Issey Miyake and General Foods.
Later Penn went back to New York where he was offered a job in Vogue by Alexander Liberman in the Art Department. At first he worked on the magazine’s layout and later he tried out photography. His photography first appeared on the cover of Vogue in 1983. He worked there throughout his professional life, taking pictures and doing photographic compositions.
Penn’s career ranges from portraits of well-known and creative people; photography that walks around the world discovering cultural phenomena; and still lifes with a modernist touch including found objects.
Penn developed his own unique style of simplicity by posing his subjects against plain grey or white milieu. He constructed a set of erect angled backgrounds to shape a austere and sharp corner. Using this technique, he took photos of Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keeffe, Igor Stravinsky, Martha Graham, and W.H. Auden.
Still life compositions by Irving Penn are organized groupings of objects with lines and volumes as such that they express abstract interaction. Penn focuses greatly on detail in his photographs. He has tried several techniques of printing. Most notable prints by him are in black and white since they appear crisp and clean.
Earthly Bodies was an exhibition in which there was a series of different nude females posed with a range of physical forms ranging from chubby to skinny. The photos were taken between 1949 and 1950, but the display took place in 1980.
Penn’s photo archives are held with The Art Institute of Chicago however later in 1995, his work was handed over to the Department of Photography and Ryerson & Burnham Libraries. However, the institute has on a collection of 200 print of fine art and has shown his work in the exhibition Penn: A Career in Photography, 1978 and Irving Penn: Underfoot, 2013. In 2013, the Smithsonian American Art Museum received hundred photos from the Irving Penn Foundation and as a present.
The works by Penn have been exhibited in many places which include mostly Europe and the United States between 1975 to 2013 even after his death. Some of the exhibitions are as follows: Irving Penn: Platinum Plates by the Photographer’s Gallery in London, 1975; Irving Penn: Street Material by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, 1977; Irving Penn: Printemps des arts de Monte Carlo, 1986; New and Unseen by Pace Gallery in New York, 1999; Dahomey by The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, 2004; Close Encounters by Morgan Library & Museum in New York, 2008; Irving Penn: Diverse Worlds by Museum of Modern Art in Sweden, 2012; and several more.
Penn published many books including Moments Preserved in 1960, Worlds in a Small Room in 1974, Inventive Paris Clothes in 1977, and many others.