Irving Penn

Irving Penn (June 16, 1917 – October 7, 2009) was an American photographer most known for his fashion photography, portraits, and still lifes. Penn’s career included work at Vogue magazine, and independent advertising work for clients including Issey Miyake, and Clinique. His work has been exhibited internationally, and continues to inform the art of photography even after his death.

While perhaps best known for his fashion photography, Irving Penn’s repertoire also includes portraits of creative greats; ethnographic photographs from around the world; Modernist still lifes of food, bones, bottles, metal, found objects, etc.; and stunning scenes from photographic travel essays. That said, his fashion photography is paramount to his career, and his creative eye helped to shape the post-World War II feminine chic and glamour photography of the mid-twentieth century.

Penn was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop and used this simplicity more effectively than other photographers. Expanding his austere studio surroundings, Penn constructed a set of upright angled backdrops, to form a stark, acute corner. Subjects photographed with this technique included Martha Graham, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, W. H. Auden, Igor Stravinsky.