Dead, Irving Penn on October 7, 2009 at the age of 92 at his home in Manhattan, he was an American photographer known for his fashion photography, portraits, and still life’s.
Born to a Russian Jewish family on June 16, 1917 in Plainfield, New Jersey, to Harry Penn and Sonia Greenberg.
Penn’s younger brother, Arthur Penn, was born in 1922 and would go on to become a film director and producer.
Penn attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts) from 1934 to 1938, where he studied drawing, painting, graphics, and industrial arts under Alexey Brodovitch.
Penn worked for two years as a freelance designer and making his first amateur photographs before taking Brodovitch’s position as the art director at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1940. Penn remained at Saks Fifth Avenue for a year before leaving to spend a year painting and taking photographs in Mexico and across the US.
When Penn returned to New York, Alexander Liberman offered him a position as an associate in the Vogue magazine Art Department. Penn worked on layout for the magazine before Liberman asked him to try photography.
Penn met Swedish fashion model Lisa Fonssagrives at a photo shoot in 1947. In 1950, the two married at Chelsea Register Office, and two years later Lisa gave birth to their son,
Tom Penn, who would go on to become a metal designer.
Lisa Fonssagrives died in 1992.
Penn focused on taking pictures of fashion models and celebrity images that would endure the tests of time. As he grew older he concentrated on capturing images of inanimate
subjects such as buses, cigarette butts, and even animal skulls.
Although he is popular for taking pictures of models and celebrities, Penn was also comfortable photographing other less-glamorous subjects, like peasants.
In his earlier work Penn was fond of using a particular device in his portrait work, replacing it with a fresh one from time to time.
At one time he placed two backgrounds to form a corner into which his subject was asked to enter.
It was, as Penn explains, “a means of closing people in. Some people felt secure in this spot, some felt trapped.
Their reaction made them quickly available to the camera.” His subjects during this ‘corner period’ included Noel Coward, the Duchess of Windsor, and Spencer Tracy, most of who complied readily.
In the 1950s, Penn founded his own studio in New York and continued to develop his fashion, commercial and personal work for the rest of his life.
Notably series include Flowers – produced over seven years for Vogue’s Christmas editions; Dahomey – taken in 1967 when visiting the kingdom for Vogue; Still Life – modernist compositions formed of objects Penn accumulated, and Cigarettes – shot in the early 1970s and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in his first exhibition in 1975.