Penn-sive State

This week, the world got a little less beautiful.

Irving Penn left us at the age of 92.

Bee-autifully striking images - a Penn trademark.
High impact, striking images - a Penn trademark.

While dubbed a fashion and celebrity photographer, Penn photographed everything from frozen vegetables to the people of tribal cultures.

What Penn brought to the likes of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar – and ultimately to us – was a clarity of vision. His compositions, regardless of subject, were always flawless.

Cult Creams, Vogue, 1996.
Cult Creams, Vogue, 1996.

He was one of the first photographers to use a simple backdrop of white or grey, often shooting his subjects in awkward spaces and angles.

Lisa Fonssagrives by Penn, 1951
Lisa Fonssagrives - his wife, by Penn, 1951
Drama at every angle, as captured by Penn.
Monsieur St. Laurent, almost captured, by Penn, 1983
Monsieur St. Laurent, almost captured, by Penn, 1983

While he predominantly shot in black and white, his colour photographs render the same crisp, clear composition.

Magic Makeup by Penn
Magic Makeup by Penn
Star Wars couture, catalogued by Penn.
Star Wars couture, catalogued by Penn.

His Vogue cover in May, 1947 is clean, simple and has an air of mystery.

Vogue cover, May 1947.
Vogue cover, May 1947.

The May, 2004 Vogue cover with Nicole Kidman is one of the magazine’s most memorable, capturing the same feeling 57 years later! The gold of the earlier cover is echoed in the recent version’s title colour, the dip of the backless dress recalls the oval mirror in the earlier. The hair is similar, albeit more dramatic in the recent version and could Kidman’s silhouette be the bottle on the dresser in the 1947 cover? Only the shadows know for sure.

Nicole Kidman on Vogue, May 2004 by Penn
Nicole Kidman on Vogue, May 2004 by Penn

Every single image speaks volumes.

Photo by Irving Penn
Cocoa dress by Irving Penn
Woman with Umbrella, Irving Penn
Woman with Umbrella, Irving Penn
The drama of this sleeve, perfectly documented by Penn.
The drama of this sleeve, perfectly documented by Penn.
Mascara Wars, by Penn.
Mascara Wars, by Penn.
Pablo Picasso by Penn, 1957
Pablo Picasso by Penn, 1957
Veiled Face by Penn, 1949
Veiled Face by Penn, 1949

We’ll be seeing you, Mr. Penn. Our hats tip to you and the beautiful image of the world you left us with.

Penn's Hat Trick, 2007
Penn's Hat Trick, 2007
The man himself, Irving Penn.
Irving Penn 1917-2009

All photos by Irving Penn.

Photo sources: 1. Bee, 2. Cream, 3. Lisa, 4. Dramatic Angles, 5. Yves, 6. Magic Makeup, 7. Star Wars, 8. 1947 Vogue, 9. 2004 Vogue, 10. Cocoa dress, 11. Umbrella, 12. Coat, 13. Mascara, 14. Picasso, 15. Veil, 16. Hat, 17 Mr. Penn.

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5 Comments

    • April 1, 2013

      Well said. Penn always pushed boundaries and had us ponder the meaning of beauty… Thanks for reading. /JM

  1. May 23, 2012

    So happy I came across your blog, it is great!

  2. October 11, 2009

    Irving Penn will definitely be missed but his images/work will live on – great selection for this post!

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