Irving Penn at the Met

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The exhibition of Irving Penn at the Met has been going on for a while. Many of my friends already went to see it, posted many images from his Classic portrait collections and glamorous fashion photographs while working at Vogue. About half way going through the exhibition, it suddenly came to me that it was not only his fashion photos that made him famous. At this moment I decided to publish a blog about him.

Still Life – Still Life were among Penn earliest assignment after joining Vogue in 1943. When composing these pictures he played the role of storyteller, but left out the human protagonist. All that remains are their traces  – an alluring smear of lipstick on a brandy glass, a burnt match. Penn constructed these and all of his photographs through the bravura act of reduction, challenging the viewer to apprehend their internal order and read them for signs of life.

In 1948 Vogue gave him an assignment to travel to Cuzco. During WWII he photographed his “World of Small Room” collection of people who came from many different places. “Gateway to the Desert” period opened up the eye of the Western world to recognize other people lifestyle. All this findings put an important mark on our world of fashion and believes of today.

Penn wanted his portraits to be weighty and irreducible like paintings. He also wanted them to carry sufficient punch to stop Vogue’s readers from turning the page. He studied the art of Goya, Daumier, and Toulouse Lautrec for lessons in focus, lighting, and graphic immediacy.

Two  Angled Stage flats



Classic Portrait

Time with VOGUE

The butts and gutter took on greater resonance. Laying them out to be photographed, Penn saw their uncanny relationship to individuals and, gathered together, to  nation undone by corporate and government irresponsibility. Printed large and platinum, this fragile remnants of momentary pleasures internalize the miseries of the age and, in Zen-like fashion, reconcile the base and the beautiful.

“Small Trades” from 1950-51 – his concentration to photograph trade people was remarkable.

Nudes 1949-50

Cigarettes 1972 – Protesting agains cigarette smoking, Penn was showing the ugly side of smoking

Late Still life 1975-2007 – photographed images he seen on the pavements.

“Youthquake” years – evolution of fashion. New styles, new demand, new generation.

Irving Penn at the Met Fifth Avenue, April 24 – July30, 2017


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