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Irving Penn

Irving Penn (1917-2009)

Irving Penn is one of the leading photographers of our time. He worked in both the commercial and artistic fields. In 1985, he won the prestigious Hasselblad Award.

A major part of Penn’s work for Vogue consisted of portraits of celebrities, artists, writers, and other personalities relevant to the reporting valued by the magazine. They constitute a true encyclopedia of twentieth-century cultural history.

For his first extensive portrait campaign, he set up unusual environments in the studio for his sitters to insert themselves into and react against: a constricted corner space made of two walls placed at an angle, and a tattered carpet draped over a solid base they could sit on.

As a young man, after graduating from the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in 1938, Irving Penn had dreams of becoming a painter. In 1941–42, he spent a year in Mexico painting, but he found his results to be disappointing and destroyed all but a small group of drawings. Despite this repudiation, drawing continued to play an important role for Penn in his subsequent work as a photographer as he worked out an image and its composition.