According to www.ew.com, Irving Penn, one of America’s greatest photographers, died today at the age of 92 in his Manhattan home, his assistant announced. Penn, whose widely admired, globe-spanning work appeared everywhere from magazines to museums, was known for his elegant fashion photography, exquisite still-life imagery, and profound yet simple portraits. He began his career as a fashion lensman for Vogue in the 1940s before moving into portraiture, and his subjects included everyone from world figures to celebrities such as Miles Davis, Spencer Tracy, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Pablo Picasso.
Wikipedia offeres the following background information: Irving Penn studied under Alexey Brodovitch at the Philadelphia Museum School from which he graduated 1938. Penn’s drawings were published by Harper’s Bazaar and he also painted. As his career in photography blossomed, he became known for post World War II feminine chic and glamour photography.
Penn has worked for many years doing fashion photography for Vogue magazine. He was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop and used this simplicity more effectively than other photographers. Expanding his austere studio surroundings, Penn constructed a set of upright angled backdrops, to form a stark, acute corner. Posing his subjects within this tight, unorthodox space, Penn brought an unprecedented sense of drama to his portraits, driving the viewer’s focus onto the person and their expression. In many photos, the subjects appeared wedged into the corner. Subjects photographed with this technique included Martha Graham, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keeffe, W. H. Auden, Igor Stravinsky and Marlene Dietrich.
While a master of the studio flash, most of Penn’s portraits are lighted with window light. For travelling to New Guinea and other locations to photograph indigenous people, Penn created a portable studio with a skylight deployed facing north with impressive results. These pictures had the same feel as his portraits of celebrities; fully adorned, naturally lighted, yet placed before the neutral backdrop, his tribal subjects appear as strangely defined models for a 19th-century ethnographic investigation.
Penn will definitely be missed among the world of photographers and art lovers.