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 #lifestyle #fashion #black-and-white #still-life #portraiture #irving-penn #best-of-the-best-series #classic-photographers


  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

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