Thursday, March 14, 2024

Penn Who? Well..... --- Day13/69

Walk: Union Square

Distance: 5.5 miles

So, who is this Irving Penn?  Is he related to the actor, Sean Penn?*  Ciwt had those questions and more when she got her Press Preview invitation from the de Young Museum for its Irving Penn show.

Then she arrived at the event and found it crowded with press people who had no question whatsoever about who Irving Penn (1917-2009) was.  Almost all were photography lovers excited to see so many works by the famed cameraman. Probably fashionistas who follow Vogue will be there in droves when the show opens because Penn was the magazine's celebrated photographer for over sixty years. 

Vogue Photographs: 

Irving Penn, Kerchief Glove (Dior), Paris, 1950, Gelatin silver print

Irving Penn, Girl with Tobacco on Tongue (Mary Jane Russel), New York, 1951, Gelatin silver print

Concurrently Penn founded his own studio in New York and began making advertising photographs for such clients as General Foods, De Beers, Issey Miyake, Clinique and many others.

Irving Penn, Issey Miyake, Staircase Dress, New York, 1994, Platinum-palladium print

His exacting and revealing portrait photographs for private clients and magazines are legend.

Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, 1957

Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1957

Edith Piaf, New York, 1948

Turns out Penn's work ranged far beyond the boundaries of fashion, cover photography and portraits into still lifes, and photographic essays on subjects like: 

Small Trades
Balloon Seller, Paris, 1950
Rock Groups, San Francisco, 1967

Anzio Beachhead One Year After Battle (A), Italy, 1947

On and on through thought provoking Still Lifes, Nudes, Beauty, Mixed Media Paintings and Drawings, even Cigarette Butts (yes, as part of a personal anti-smoking campaign in the mid 60's).

All of his images are accessible and riveting viewing for even the most basic photographers - like Ciwt with her iPhone.  But throughout his career Penn was really a photographers' photographer experimenting with monochromatic backdrops in an era of artificial lighting, reinvigorating antiquated processes such as platium and gelatin silver, experimenting with many printing techniques including mounting negatives on aluminum sheets.  And always throughout achieving prints that are deeply contrasting, clean crisp, stunningly visually simple.  

All this artistry and creativity at a time when photography was primarily understood as a means of communication. No more as we all know.  Nearly singlehandedly Iriving Penn brought photography into the dominant artistic medium it is today.

*No, but Irving Penn's brother, filmmaker and theater director Arthur, was Sean's father.  And Ciwt is a bit off the hook not knowing much about Irving Penn because he was an intensely private man who avoided the limelight.

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