Irving Penn

Irving Penn was an American photographer born 1917, he was most well known for his fashion, portrait and still life photography. He was renowned photographer, working for high end clients such as Vogue magazine, Clinique and Issey Miyake. He has also been exhibited internationally with exhibitions in New York, London, Monte Carlo, and Stockholm, and his work is still informing the art of photography today. Penn was one of the first photographers to pose his subjects in front of plain white and grey backdrops, and be able to use the simplicity effectively. He would create sets and make stark acute angles to pose his subject in, all of his images are composed with a great attention to detail. Using these methods he photographed the greats of the arts industry,  people like Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. His attention to detail wasn’t just focussed on his sets, he controlled every detail of his prints to, and his black and white prints are notable for their strong contrasts and their clear crisp look.

It is Irving Penn’s use of set construction and lighting that interests me in his work. The reason that his portraits are so iconic is not only because of the famous faces in them, but the attention he pays to every fine detail when constructing he images. I believe that it is the angular structures that he creates that make the image, they draw the viewers eye to the subjects and create an intimate space. The enclosing of the subjects creates a trapping atmosphere and forces the model to have a relation to the space. His use of simple lighting and set is so effective within his work, and this is something I will think about in my own work. I want to use Penn’s style to inspire the way i create my own sets and use of lighting.

“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seeing it; it is in one word, effective” – Irving Penn.


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