“A good photograph is one that communicate a fact, touches the heart, leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.”
American-born Irving Penn studied under Alexey Brodovitch at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) from which he was graduated in 1938. Penn’s drawings were published by Harper’s Bazaar and he also painted. As his career in photography blossomed, he became known for post World War II feminine chic and glamour photography.
Penn worked for many years doing fashion photography for Vogue magazine, founding his own studio in 1953. He was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop and used this simplicity more effectively than other photographers. His austere style of photographing models and fashion accessories against clean backdrops was in contrast to the prevailing style of using busy settings and props.
Posing his subjects within this tight, unorthodox space, Penn brought an unprecedented sense of drama to his portraits, driving the viewer’s focus onto the person and their expression. Portraiture from the 1950s showed not only famous actors, musicians and politicians but also plumbers, salesmen and cleaners in New York City, Paris and London and his range of subjects was wide – from frozen vegetables, to single portraits to huge groups.
And some of Penn’s most famous portraits, including Pablo Picasso, Duke Ellington, Marlene Dietrich, Woody Allen, Rudolf Nureyev and Helmut Newton, can be found in this great collector’s book.