Irving Penn, the influential, versatile and indefatigable studio photographer, died Wednesday at 92.
A craftsman and a perfectionist, Penn was known for longtime association with Vogue magazine. He shot pioneering fashion photographs in the 1950s and constructed elegant portraits of many important artists of the 20th century. Equally admired for his still life work, he was still producing work into his 90s.
The look that photographers now associate with Penn—objects isolated against a neutral background—was a groundbreaking reflection of modernist style when Penn began using it for fashion in the 1950s. Penn refined the style and applied it to countless subjects—be they fashion models, artists, pieces of sculpture or colorful blocks of frozen food.
In still lifes, Penn had an eye for simple, elegant compositions. In his portraits, the effect of the plain background sometimes made his subjects appear isolated and vulnerable. He once said he pictured his client as “a woman in Kansas who reads Vogue. I’m trying to intrigue, stimulate, feed her. My responsibility is to the reader. A severe portrait which is not the greatest joy in the world to the subject may be enormously interesting to the reader.”
Though Penn practiced commercial photography, his work was embraced by the fine art world. His prints have fetched six-figure prices at auctions. Penn has been the subject of numerous exhibitions over the decades, including recent shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. Penn's portraits are currently the subject of "Small Trades," an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles through January 10, 2010.
obituary via PDN
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