The death of groundbreaking photographer Irving Penn was announced earlier today. Penn was 92 and died of unreleased causes in his Manhattan home.
Penn was known for the spectacular simplicity he captured in his photos, whether he was capturing still life subjects, nudes, or fashion-based portraits. He saw beauty in all subjects, once saying, “Photographing a cake can be art.” Besides inanimate objects, he also had the privilege to photograph such luminaries as Picasso, Truman Capote, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keeffe, W.H. Auden, and Marlene Dietrich, among others. He was also a fixture in the fashion world, as Mr. Penn did work for Vogue in the 1940s and 1950s. Rather than focusing on the décor of the room, Penn revolutionized the close-up: He would literally put his subjects in corners against white or grey walls made up of acute angles. In this way, artist Penn forced the viewer to notice the expressions on his subjects’ faces. Rather than use artificial light, he used natural window light in most of his pieces. As a result, Penn was able to capture the drama of his subjects in an interesting way, and this method was VERY unconventional for the time period.
Some notable works include “Woman with Roses”, “Girl in Dior Hat with Martini”, and “Girl with Tobacco on Tongue”. In 2002, Anthony Lane wrote that Penn took “the most beautiful pictures ever made of the most beautiful clothes ever sewn.”
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