‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’: Irving Penn
I’m not sure why it is that when someone dies, we remember how they great they were in a way that is never done when they’re alive. I guess that’s just the way the world works. Last week, Irving Penn, a famous American photographer died aged 92. His unique style of fashion photography used natural light rather than all the expensive studio lighting, favouring a simple black or white background to bring out specific features of his subjects. He championed black and white photography and focused on the composition of the photograph, placing his subjects in the frame in a way that resembled still life images.
Penn started off at Vogue in 1943 as an art director but when he couldn’t get the results he wanted from the photographers, he tried his hand behind the camera. His first picture appeared on the front cover of the October issue of Vogue.
Penn went on to do more Vogue shoots, including still life photographs of accessories and worked on personal projects as well as advertorials for famous brands such as Clinique. He even had two exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art under his belt. He was also famous for photographing celebrities from Miles Davies and Pablo Picasso to Gisele and Nicole Kidman.
I sometimes think that we underestimate the importance of photography in fashion. It is the single most important expression of a moment and is one of the most important channels of communication for a designer to show off their creations. Irving Penn played a significant role in the evolution of fashion photography and I’m sure his legacy will live on.