Catch the centennial exhibition of Irving Penn before it closes Thursday at the Pace/MacGill gallery in Midtown.
Photographer Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009) is celebrated for his compelling portraits, scenes, and still lifes, in genres ranging from fashion to travel photography. Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, Penn studied painting and design at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, working alongside Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch during his summers as a student. He later worked as a graphic designer in New York before being hired to shoot for Vogue magazine, under influential art director Alexander Liberman. Penn began designing the covers and photographing models for the magazine, establishing his reputation as an influential fashion photographer in images with streamlined, minimalist compositions and dramatic lighting.
Penn also created intimate portraits of celebrities, often encouraging his subjects to sit for him for many hours at a time in order to take truly personal, individualized portraits. He traveled to New Guinea, Morocco, Peru, and other countries around the world to capture images of families and workers in elegant, detailed ethnographic photos. In the 1960s, he began working with platinum prints, a laborious, turn of the century method of developing photographs; he later began redeveloping many of his earlier works using the process, bringing the technique back into popularity. Towards the end of his career, Penn’s work expanded to include arresting still lifes, such as closely cropped photographs of cigarette butts and bones. He died in 2009, at 92 years old, leaving behind a legacy of graceful, incisive works, spanning both the commercial and the Fine Art worlds. Penn has been honored with the Hasselblad Award in Photography, and his work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Tate Modern in London.
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