To mark the centennial of Irving Penn’s birth, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is presenting a retrospective of his photographs. Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, Penn (1917-2009) mastered a pared-down aesthetic of studio photography, distinguished for its meticulous attention to composition, nuance, detail and printmaking.
Penn was first and foremost a fashion photographer, with his early photographs of couture establishing a new standard. His craftsmanship was honed under the instruction of legendary art director Alexander Liberman, who once described Penn as someone “unspoiled” by cultural in uences: “I was struck by his directness and a curious unworldliness, a clarity of purpose and a freedom of decision.” Yet Penn’s fashion photographs are merely the most salient of his specialities.
Penn dealt with so many subjects throughout his long career that he is conventionally seen either with a single lens – as the portraitist, fashion photographer, or still-life virtuoso – or as the master of all trades, the jeweller of journalists who could fine-tune anything.
Irving Penn: Centennial, at The Met Fifth Avenue, includes both masterpieces and previously unknown prints from all Penn’s major series. It runs until July 30.
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