Research Code Key
[E] Explanation [O] Opinion [W] Website [R] Further Research [Q] Quotation [U] Useful [!] Critical
[X] Exhibition [T] Timeline [I] Important [>] Indent
[P] Photograph [B] Book To Read



[U] Irving Penn was the last exponent of the aristocratic concept of fashion photography.

[U] He was sent to Paris by Vogue in 1950 to photograph the latest collection.

[I] The images seemed simple enough, but the representation of fashion was subordinate to the expression of the photographer’s personal viewpoint.

[U] Irving Penn, like Richard Avedon, operated simultaneously in another branch of commercial photography – advertising – and in his published albums he mixed commissioned images with others produced as part of more personal projects.

[U] The result was that his approach to fashion photography was shot through by that ambiguity which turns a commercial snapshot into a creative moment.

[U] The apparent simplicity of Irving Penn’s compositions conceals a formal complexity.

[I] It is the result of the particular elegance of the model’s outline, of the abstract interplay of lines and shapes, of empty and filled space.

[U] Irving Penn’s deliberate aim was to reinstate fashion photography into the history of painting.

[Q] “It has been helpful, in orientation,” he wrote, “to think of myself, a contemporary fashion photographer, as stemming directly from painters of fashion back through the centuries.”

[U] If Irving Penn’s idea of the existence of a pictorial category involving “fashion painters” was somewhat inexact, it did at least allow him to treat his own commercial activity with the free and disinterested attitude of the painter.

[U] This evolution of fashion photography into a means of artistic self expression would become particularly obvious in the 1970s.

[U] Greatly assisted by the unusual physique of his favorite model (Lisa Fonssagrives, who was also his wife), Irving Penn seemed to consider each photograph to be like a portrait which interpreted freely the conventions of pictorial photography – to such an extent that he made little distinction between work in the studio and the more experimental craft of darkroom and printing techniques.

[I] Stage props are usually absent from his photographs.

[I] They are posed against a plain paper backdrop and translate his perception of a unique moment.

[I] In his work, a simple photograph constitutes a personal vision, in which the outline, the gradation of tones, and contrasts, become the trademark of a way of looking which gives form to the world.