1917–2009, American photographer, elder brother of Arthur Penn
, b. Plainfield, N.J.; studied Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now University of the Arts, 1934–38). Originally a painter, Penn began (1943) his nearly 70-year career in studio photography working for Vogue
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, he printed his photographs from the 1960s on using an arduous platinum-based process that resulted in great permanence and imparted uniquely deep, velvety, and luminous tones to his images. His work has been exhibited widely; the Art Institute of Chicago holds his archives.
See his Moments Preserved (1960), Worlds in a Small Room (1974), Passage (1991), People in Passage (1992), Irving Penn: A Career in Photography (1997), Irving Penn: Small Trades (2009), and Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty (2015), and M. M. Hambourg and J. L. Rosenheim, Irving Penn: Centennial (catalog, 2017); study by J. Szarkowski (1984).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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