Last week saw the passing of a dynamic creative mind and an artistic legend. Irving Penn died in his Manhattan home on October 6, 2009, at the age of 92. Penn’s story was truly extraordinary; the iconic photographer spent the last half century changing the face of fashion, advertising and visual art through his dazzling work.
Penn rose to fame after WWII, when print advertising was coming to a crux and the world of fashion was once again in the spotlight after a decade-long hiatus. A frequent contributor to publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, Penn was a master of taking unusual, everyday objects and transforming them into treasures. His portraiture subjects included Georgia O’Keeffe, Miles Davis, W.H. Auden and Pablo Picasso and he became well known as a celebrity photographer for using natural window light in his work to create dramatic effects. Traveling to New Guinea and Africa to take photographs of indigenous peoples, Penn was also a noted travel photographer who found beauty in the unexpected and glamorized the gritty.
Among his most famous photographs is Theater Accident (1947) which depicts a purse with a watch, an earring, a bobby pin, and a cigarette among other odds and ends spilling out of it. Making commonplace still life subjects come alive through the lens was one of Penn’s many talents.
Please take a moment to remember this creative maverick and then check out some of his finest work here.