Irving Penn | Moments Preserved



For than 70 years, Penn photographed for Vogue and commercial clients in the United States and internationally. Penn's photographs, whether they are original fashion images, captivating portraits, or engaging still life's, all have his signature style of graceful aesthetic simplicity.


Penn was a skilled printer in addition to his editing and commercial work. He developed a sophisticated technique for producing platinum-palladium prints, a 19th-century print process to which he used 20th-century ingredients, beginning in 1964.


The Museum of Modern Art in New York held the first retrospective of Penn's work in 1984. He began painting and drawing as a full-fledged creative effort after the landmark show, which travelled to over 14 countries after MoMA. His inventive images continued to appear in Vogue until his death in 2009, and his studio was busy with assignments and experimental personal work.


Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. (2015–16) and Irving Penn: Centennial at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are two recent exhibitions (2017).


Irving Penn, a painter by training, began his photography career in the 1940s, working for Vogue and other fashion magazines. Penn was mainly responsible for the modernization of photography's principles at a period when the medium was still growing as an art form.


Penn's experimental approach is still recognisable today; looking at his photographs, it's clear that he drew influence from sketching, sculpture, and graphic design to inform his own photographic technique.


The fundamental aspects of his style were dubbed "photographism" by him, a phrase that was honoured in the exhibition title. Photographism categorises Penn's life's work in six different ways, demonstrating how his numerous inspirations inspired his photography rather than focusing on a certain linear progression or chronology of his career.


Two of the exhibition's categories of Penn's work have references to painting and sculpture, two mediums Penn intentionally intended to incorporate in his photography. "As a photographer, what I long for is someone who will connect the work of photographers to that of historical sculptors and painters," Penn said.


Photographism's sixth piece, on the other hand, examines how Penn's art may be used to probe the field of photography itself. His images of the human eye, for example, give the impression that the camera is looking back at the photographer or at the spectator.


The theme of parallelism, which is important to the show and Penn's work in general, is revisited here. This is maybe the most essential takeaway of all: despite his prowess over the course of an eighty-year career, Penn claimed to have "always stood in awe of the camera."



One of the most significant photographers of the twentieth century was Irving Penn. Through his work with Vogue, where he contributed for more than six decades, he recorded notable cultural luminaries like as Jasper Johns, Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois, and Salvador Dal, and elevated fashion photography to an art form. Penn was recognised for his simple compositional style and for photographing his subjects in natural light in the studio; his photos are distinguished by their simplicity, elegance, and tonal subtleties.


Penn experimented with 19th-century print methods as well as shooting in grayscale and colour. Penn also shot still life's, businessmen, and nudists. He took ethnographic images of tribes he encountered during his travels between 1948 and 1971.