Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

No Breaks: Irving Penn

From the ever brilliant Faded + Blurred

“I myself have always stood in awe of the camera. I recognize it for the instrument it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel.” – Irving Penn
Stark simplicity. These are the words that come to mind when seeing the work of Irving Penn. No excess, no props, and the paraphernalia most fashion photographers were using at the time had been stripped away. Penn was the first fashion photographer to use blank white space or simple textured backgrounds for his images, letting the fashion speak for itself. Using the line of the model’s figure and the cut of the fabric to fill the empty space, what appears to be simple is layered with complexity. He wanted to “make things manageable enough to record them, to prune away anything inconsequential… because less is more.” Penn’s images can be pointed to as the beginning of modern fashion photography.

Irvin Penn (like his contemporaries, Saul Leiter and Cartier-Bresson) studied drawing and painting at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in the 1930s. After working as a freelance designer for Harper’s Bazaar for a couple of years, he took some time off to go to Mexico in order to paint. After a year he realized he would never make it as an artist so he came back to New York where he was hired by Vogue to work on the design of the covers. For some reason, he was unable to get the photographers interested in the designs he sketched. The art director, Alexander Liberman, told him to take the photographs himself. The first one he did, a still-life, ended up as the cover of the October 1, 1943 issue. After that, his photographs appeared on more than 150 covers, spanning the next 50 years…………READ MORE



irving-penn-48See the huge range of this photographic genius on the wonderful Faded + Blurred spotlight here


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