Irving Penn, master of the portrait

Irving Penn was a revolutionary of the photography. He approached it as an art; he was bold enough to experiment as no one had ever done in the 20th century.
During his work of more than six decades in Vogue magazine, he made portraits of famous and influential people: artists, writers, politicians, activists. Picasso, Sofia Loren, Truman Capote, Al Pacino and Dalí are just a few of those who were captured by his black-and-white camera.


In his work he did not use decorations; simplicity was the hallmark of his portraits. He made the subject pose in the background using only one or two walls at an angle. Sometimes he incorporated a stool or a roll of fabric.
Photographer, camera and person were enough elements to capture the essence of the portrayed. Today some people still say that Irving Penn did not photograph, but captured souls with his portraits.

The American photographer, born in 1917, also made portraits of ordinary people for Vogue during trips around the world. Morocco, Cuzco, Crete and Spain were some of the places he visited.
To propitiate a neutral contact with the people who would pose, Irving Penn conceived a “studio shop” that armed and disarmed in the places where he went. He wanted people from different cultures to be moved by the experience in a space of mutual respect, portrait and portrayal. The result would be to move the viewer as well.


Fashion photography was an essential part of his work at Vogue. The magazine’s art director, Alexander Liberman, motivated him to innovate in cover design. He did this by creating compositions of objects and portraits of models in which simplicity also predominated. The ornaments were on the side, the photograph focused on the model on a white or grey background. The product was an image that highlighted the shape and style of the clothes.

Their ingenuity was also manifested in the printing techniques. He had a habit of printing his own photographs, and in the 1970s he used the platinum-palladium metal process to print his images. His idea was to obtain a photograph of the highest possible quality, an artistic object.
Irving Penn’s photographs were original, diverse and eye-catching, masterpieces that even today continue to generate emotions and admiration.

You can see many of Penn’s photos on his foundation site.

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