October 8, 2009

The great Irving Penn, photographer, dies in NYC at age 92

There's so much to say about Irving Penn, the great innovator, that I thought I'd pull some copy straight from one of his obituaries. Take time to look up some of his iconic fashion images. If you are a wedding or studio portrait photographer, he's required studying for his beautiful lighting and posing.

From the Times Online....."In a career that lasted more than 60 years, Irving Penn marked himself out as one of the fathers of modern-day fashion, portrait and still-life photography. Along with the late Richard Avedon, his great colleague and rival, Penn brought about a change in postwar portraiture and fashion photography that was to have repercussions up to the present day.

For the first hundred years of photography, politicians, generals and actors had visited portrait studios in search of nobility and fine looks, expecting their cowardice or their pimples to be deftly retouched. They were paying to have their vanities gratified. Penn broke that compact between photographer and sitter. Penn’s subjects left themselves open to the photographer’s interpretation in the same way that Dora Maar left herself open to Picasso’s frantic interpretation.

It may be the norm today but in breaking that contract, Penn wanted to expose the life behind the achievement. He shot Martha Graham, WH Auden and Stravinsky, for example, posed in stark tight corners. bringing a drama to the composition and focusing all attention on those faces, assessing without flinching precisely the price, the damage of struggle, the achievement and the life itself.

Penn made a very handsome living at Vogue taking direct and austere photographs of beautiful models, focusing attention on the elegance to which many women aspired. His fashion photography influenced many, notably Norman Parkinson. But at the same time Penn was also one of the 20th century’s most distinguished practitioners of the time-honoured genre of still life. Following in the tradition of Chardin and other still-life painters, he brought his rigorous eye to the subject in photographs of great wit, simplicity and edginess. Taking such unpromising subjects as old cigarette butts, bones, street trash and lumps of tofu, he set about making a body of work that could shock as much as it could delight."

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