Some of the most iconic photographs paint a picture of conflict and despair but let us not forget that some also display beauty. Irving Penn is one of those photographers that chose to create beautiful imagery during the long span of his career.
Irving Penn (1907-2009) was a master attuned to the beauty of the world. Aside from making some of the most beautiful images of inanimate objects like a seemingly banal pair of burnt cigarettes and an assorted collection of spices and food that looked quite the majestic pieces of art they are on monochrome film, Penn also crafted elegant fashion spreads on some of the world’s most famous fashion magazines.
Such is the story of “Woman in Palace” wherein Irving Penn shot his wife, model Lisa Fonssagrives starkly looking at the camera with a blank but powerful expression. Fashion photographs during the time of a booming fashion industry were mostly used to show pretty products on equally pretty models. Penn created “Woman in Palace” not with a product on mind but with the idea of showcasing beauty and taste.
Set in an authentic Moroccan palace in Marakech, Penn took the photograph in the manner that old-time photography masters – Penn chose to use monochrome film, and in great effect. The black and white photograph of the stunning Lisa Fonssagrives stood out with its simplicity. If other notable fashion photographers like Helmut Newton and Cecil Beaton favoured the glammed-out sets and props, Penn played it on the low key but still with evocative beauty that is still talked about even today.
Our intention with the Influential Photographs columns is not to glorify or demean the subject of the photo. Our intention with this column is to highlight the most influential analogue photographs of history. The photographs we feature are considered icons, for their composition, subject matter, or avant-garde artistic value.