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Monday Muse: Photographer Irving Penn

Claim to Vogue Fame: 

Vogue’s first and only still life cover (Oct 1, 1943)

Fun Facts: 

• Photographs appeared on more than 150 Vogue covers, spanning 50 years

• Married the world’s first supermodel, Lisa Fonssagrives (June 1950 cover)

Irving Penn’s career at Vogue spanned a number of radical transformations in fashion and its depiction, but his style remained remarkably constant. His signature style was a blend of classical elegance and cool minimalism. The photographs often seemed intent on defying fashion, as his models and portrait subjects were never seen leaping or running or turning themselves into blurs. In fact, the model's pose emphasizes the shape and construction of the garment, treating the clothes less as dresses to be worn than as shapes to be perceived in silhouette.

Instead of offering spontaneity, Mr. Penn provided the illusion of something fixed, his gaze precisely describing the profile of a Balenciaga coat or of a Moroccan djellaba in a way that could almost mesmerize the viewer. The majority of his subjects were usually shown whole, perhaps enjoying the splendid isolation from the real world so that he could extract the essential meaning of the garment by focusing on its line, volume, and texture.

Probably most famous for photographing fashion models and cultural figures, he seemed equally at home photographing Peruvian peasants or bunion pads. Merry A. Foresta, co-organizer of a 1990 retrospective of his work at the National Portrait Gallery and what is now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, wrote that his pictures exhibited “the control of an art director fused with the process of an artist.”

 Take a look at Irving Penn's creations.




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