Thursday, October 8, 2009

Irving Penn Dead at 92

Legendary photographer Irving Penn died yesterday (October 7) in his Manhattan home at the age of 92.

Known for the stark Euclidean-simplicity of his compositions, Irving Penn transformed the mundane into beautiful abstract photographic masterpieces.

He was born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1917. Although he started taking photographs in the late '30s, his original ambition was to be a painter.   As a student at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Design, he studied with famed Harper's Bazaar Art Editor Alexey Brodovich.  He ended up working with Brodovich in the magazine, then became Art Director at Saks 5th Avenue.

He left Saks to paint in Mexico for a year.  Dissatisfied with his efforts, he went back to New York to work in the Vogue Art Department under Alexander Liberman.  Unimpressed with some of the photographer's work, he started shooting the layouts himself.  Except for a brief stint in World War II as an ambulance driver and photographer for the American Field Service, he became a permanent fixture at Vogue -- A legend in residence.   His photographs are in the permanent collections of numerous institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago among many others.

Irving Penn's beautifully composed photographs (which he sometimes pre-sketches) have been a great influence on my own photography.  A lover of form, symmetry, shapes and later, color, he has shown me that photography is Fine Art, and that "simplicity" can sometimes be more profound.

Among all the great photographers, I have the closest affinity to Irving Penn in both sensibility and taste.  We also like photographing the same (beautiful/eyecatching) things - women (fashion/nudes), portraits and still-life.  Although I never got the chance to know him or meet him in person, his photographic work will always be a treasured legacy that has fueled my own development as a photographer and as an artist.

It would be a disservice to Irving Penn to highlight just a few pictures from across his broad body of work, so I have decided to do it in installments.  I have chosen these "artist portraits" first, since these Artists are his peers and the photographs themselves clearly show his mastery of Portraiture.

Richard Avedon - Photographer

Cecil Beaton - Photographer

Ingmar Bergman - Filmmaker, Director

Jean Cocteau - Poet, Filmmaker

Pablo Picasso - Painter, Sculptor

Salvador Dali - Painter, Sculptor

Georgia O'Keefe - Painter

Alberto Giacometti - Sculptor

Giorgio de Chirico - Painter

Jasper Johns - Painter

Francis Bacon - Painter

Tennessee Williams -  Playwright

Truman Capote - Novelist, Playwright

Anais Nin - Journalist, Novelist

Miles Davis - Jazz Musician, Composer

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe - Architect

Yves Saint Laurent - Designer

Irving Penn is now a part of the pantheon of Artistic Innovators that have shaped our collective aesthetic.  Thank you so much for your gift to us... we will surely miss you.

Irving Penn (Self-portrait) - Photographer

More on Irving Penn next time...

For a list of published books on Irving Penn, go to: These books are available in

-- Portraits by Irving Penn.

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