1917 - 2009 · United States
Irving Penn is an American photographer known for his extensive repertoire including expressive portraits, fashion photography and still-life shots. Penn’s unique eye captured a variety of subjects transforming simplicity into fine-art. Born on June 16, 1917, in Plainfield, New Jersey, he studied art and design under Alexey Brodovitch at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia before moving to New York in 1938. In New York, Penn started as Brodovitch’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar magazine and around this time Irving Penn began to take photographs. Penn pursued his career in fashion photography working for Vogue before establishing himself being an important photographer in the industry. To capture his realistic black and white photographs Penn uses both large format and a 35mm camera. The singular images result in his unique and pioneering signature that is built around magnifying subjects by using immaculate backgrounds such as the celebrities portraits of Martha Graham, Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso among others. Irving Penn’s artistic approach includes the lighting as a major role in structuring the image as well as a medium to explore the concept of abstraction in photography shooting objects often considered unworthy, “It is a light of such penetrating clarity that even a simple object lying by chance in such a light takes on an inner glow, almost a voluptuousness.” The Irving Penn foundation was created in 2005 and established in New York. Irving Penn died on October 7, 2009, in New York. For his major contribution in the field of photography, in 2017 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened a commemorative retrospective “Irving Penn: Centennial,". Today, Irving Penn photographs are exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.