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Irving Penn

Penn, Irving, 1917–2009, American photographer, elder brother of Arthur Penn, b. Plainfield, N.J.; studied Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (1934–38). Originally a painter, Penn began working working for Vogue in 1943 and became one of America's most successful fashion photographers, known for his cool, refined, and glamorously stylized images. In portraiture, Penn used plain backgrounds and natural light and was famously adept at capturing the essence of his sitter's personality. He photographed many of the world's most famous people and also traveled worldwide to capture other human subjects. As beautifully composed as his figural work, Penn's still lifes form a kind of collective memento mori in their concentration on the ruined and the ephemeral—cigarette butts, fragments of objects, fruit pits, chewed gum, and the like. A superb technician, from the 1960s on he printed his photographs using an arduous platinum-based process that produces great permanence and imparts uniquely deep, velvety, and luminous tones to his images. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and at the Art Institute of Chicago, which owns his archives.

See his Moments Preserved (1960), Worlds in a Small Room (1974), Passage (1991), People in Passage (1992), and Irving Penn: A Career in Photography (1997); study by J. Szarkowski (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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See more Encyclopedia articles on: Photography: Biographies


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