Best of the Best: Irving Penn


"A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective." – Irving Penn

Irving Penn (June 16, 1917 – October 7, 2009)

For seven decades, Irving Penn was an exceptional fashion and portraiture photographer. His signature style depicted a combination of sophisticated elegance and classical minimalism. He believed that “less is more.” Because he preferred stark simplicity, his models and subjects were isolated in rich light and shadow and they possessed serene politesse which almost defied the extravagance and luxury of fashion.

He shot more than 150 covers for Vogue magazine in different editions. Aside from fashion and portraiture photography, Penn’s forte branched out into a number of different genres, such as ethnographic studies, nudes, still life, and travel. His career flourished through his continuous experimentation and exploration of photography and its limitations. Remarkably, his penchant enabled him to merge the border lines between art and commerce.

Penn took pictures of outstanding personalities from the worlds of literature, music, and the arts, like Truman Capote, Salvador Dali, Christian Dior, T. S. Eliot, Duke Ellington, Alfred Hitchcock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Grace Kelly, Al Pacino, and Pablo Picasso to name a few. He also took pictures of whatever he wanted, like butchers, animal skulls, craftsmen, cigarette butts, ballerinas, and even Hell’s Angels. But no matter how classy, cultural, or life-less his subjects were, the resulting photographs were like immobilized poetry with great depth and graphic precision.

Salvador Dali, 1947 © Irving Penn via
Alfred Hitchcock, 1947 © Irving Penn via
Rock Groups, 1967 © Irving Penn via
Truman Capote, 1948 © Irving Penn via
Woman with Roses, 1950 © Irving Penn via masters of photography
Cecil Beaton with Nude, 1946 © Irving Penn via
Marlene Dietrich, 1948 © Irving Penn via
Georgia O’Keeffe, 1948 © Irving Penn via
Harlequin Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 1950 © Irving Penn via
Barnett Newman, 1966 © Irving Penn via
Pablo Picasso, 1957 © Irving Penn via
Al Pacino, 1995 © Irving Penn via
Ballet Theater, 1947 © Irving Penn via masters of photography
Bouchers, 1950 © Irving Penn via masters of photography
Three Asaro Mud Men, 1970 © Irving Penn via masters of photography
Three Rissani Women, 1971 © Irving Penn via masters of photography
Girl Behind Glass, 1949 © Irving Penn via
Cigarette 17, 1972 © Irving Penn via masters of photography

Which of these Irving Penn photographs strike your liking the most? What other fashion and portraiture photographers would you like to be written about? Read more about the Best of the Best Series.

written by basterda on 2011-04-13 in #lifestyle #black-and-white #irving-penn #classic-photographers #portraiture #best-of-the-best-series #fashion #still-life


  1. okonsten
    okonsten ·

    Penn have inspired me so much with his purity of style and simpleness.

  2. caroni
    caroni ·

    great Photographer, like his Portraits, ....Al Pacino, Pablo Picasso and Truman Capote

More Interesting Articles

  • Lorenzo Antico's 'Final Shot' Presents Last Shots From 33 Films

    written by Julien Matabuena on 2015-05-12 in #world #lifestyle #videos
    Lorenzo Antico's 'Final Shot' Presents Last Shots From 33 Films

    A movie's parting shot is a crucial element in the sense that it could either make or break the lasting impression that it would have on its audience. It could either wrap things up quite nicely and leave viewers satisfied, or it could do otherwise. For many, it's often the first thing that comes to mind long after the final credits have rolled out.

  • 5 Modern-Day Music Videos Shot on Film

    written by lomographymagazine on 2015-08-08 in #world #lifestyle #videos
    5 Modern-Day Music Videos Shot on Film

    Great lyric, though layered with fictions, is a piece of personal history. And so is the video. Inspired by their collaborator’s words and music, directors still turn to film for a touch of authenticity and soul.

  • 11 Beloved Toy Cameras

    written by lomographymagazine on 2015-12-09 in #gear #reviews
    11 Beloved Toy Cameras

    For some, it marked their first foray into the wonderful world of analog photography. Others consider it a trusty, go-to camera despite having a massive camera collection which sometimes include some of the best gear there is. Whatever the case may be, toy cameras will always hold a special place in the hearts (and shelves) of analog photographers everywhere, quirks and all.

  • Shop News

    Lomo'Instant Reykjavik Edition

    Lomo'Instant Reykjavik Edition

    The latest addition to the Lomo’Instant family! Inspired by the Icelandic midnight sky, Get endless creativity, take multiple exposed instant snapshots, experiment with long exposure and light painting shots!

  • Martin Liu:Tracking Wind in Mongolia with the Minitar-1 Art Lens

    written by Lomography on 2016-01-27 in #people
    Martin Liu:Tracking Wind in Mongolia with the Minitar-1 Art Lens

    "Photography is a reflection of heart." These are the words of Martin Liu, a documentary, wedding and portrait photographer from Hong Kong. He believes that the photographer must understand the stories, experiences and values of his or her subjects to capture the different faces of love. To capture priceless moments for a smitten pair, he brings the Minitar-1 Lens to Mongolia for a one-of-a-kind shoot. Hear the story behind this shoot, and the rest of Martin Liu's journeys in this exclusive interview.

  • The Instant Project

    written by suizidekid on 2015-06-23 in #world #lifestyle
    The Instant Project

    It was a cold and cloudy winter day in 2012 when I came up with the idea of compiling photographs of people's faces. I decided that the most personal way to do it is through instant shots. They are one of a kind and you immediately have something in your hands.

  • Photography's Dangerous Past

    written by lomographymagazine on 2015-11-03 in #world #lifestyle #videos
    Photography's Dangerous Past

    Anything that is poised to change history must have its drawbacks. The early photographic processes are no exception.

  • Shop News

    Lomo LC-A+ Russian Lens

    Lomo LC-A+ Russian Lens

    A true Lomographic gem, the Lomo LC-A+ RL is blessed with good looks and bursting with experimental potential. Get ready to shoot amazing Lomographic photos by experimenting with MX shots, long exposures and a whole range of accessories!

  • Storytelling with Petzvals: Alex Timmermans and the Art of Collodion

    written by jacobs on 2015-04-03 in #people #lifestyle
    Storytelling with Petzvals: Alex Timmermans and the Art of Collodion

    Not long after Alex Timmermans purchased his first digital camera at the turn of the century, he quickly realized the trappings of digital photography couldn't fulfill his personal photographic desires. He then began searching for a more challenging process — one that wasn't so predictable. His journey eventually landed him back at the roots of analogue photography, specifically employing the wet plate collodion process using original Petzval lenses. This antique photographic process found in him a renewed inspiration and has since become his passion, which is evident in both his words and his images.

  • Blue for Hue: Day and Night Visions on Kono! Donau Film

    written by Lomography on 2015-10-19 in #gear #news
    Blue for Hue: Day and Night Visions on Kono! Donau Film

    Not all photographs are meant to be seen in vibrant, saturated colors, and neither are they always suitable for in black and white. Lomography welcomes yet another innovation from KONO! The Reanimated Film. Without diminishing the aesthetic value of images, KONO! Donau 35mm Film casts a distinct blue tone to photos. It is ultra-low ISO film that is best used for long exposure shots. Check out this fine selection of uniquely tinted images.

  • Light is Magical: A Talk With Li Hui

    written by jennifer_pos on 2015-04-10 in #people #news #lifestyle
    Light is Magical: A Talk With Li Hui

    Photography is not only an act of documentation or communication, it is also a way of seeing the world. The camera opens our eyes and lets us see what lies behind the obvious, and we start looking at things as potential subjects of a photograph. Every leak of light unveils secrets that talented photographers turn into a piece of art. Li Hui is one of those gifted artists. We talked to her about her work and her sensitive photographs that picture a wonderful vulnerability.

  • Shop News

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Fuji Instax Wide 300

    Shoot wider and bigger with this new instax camera that has film format twice the size of the instax mini films!

  • Total Eclipse of the Sun Competition

    written by jacobs on 2015-03-20 in #gear #news #competitions
    Total Eclipse of the Sun Competition

    Did you catch the solar eclipse that happened recently? Word on the street is that it even resulted in a total eclipse in some areas of Europe, making it a pretty rare occasion for the folks that got to see it! We're guessing that some of you even had your cameras to catch the whole shebang on film — which is why we're throwing a competition for the best eclipse and sun inspired shots out there. Come on in and check out the details!

  • The World According to Herr Willie: The Amazon

    written by wil6ka on 2015-04-09 in #world #locations
    The World According to Herr Willie: The Amazon

    It was the Amazon which I had longed for my whole life. And when it was finally a set deal that I will travel to Brazil with two of my best friends for the Copa do Mundo (World Cup), we really had to start our adventure in the Amazon. I had known about this magical place deep in the rainforest. There was a lodge run by local people of indigenous background, with wooden houses that float on the water and a limited number of visitors. It was eco-tourism as how it should be. To preserve and to celebrate one of the most impressive locations I have seen so far.

  • Photo of the Day by _baunovart_

    written by lomography on 2016-02-06 in #world #news
    Photo of the Day by _baunovart_

    It took nearly 20 years for this work of art to be completed.