R.I.P. Irving Penn

Irving Penn, a powerhouse of photography, passed away yesterday at the age of 92. Not only known for his portraits of famous writers, artists and celebrities, he was also well-recognized for his fashion photography. He had a 70-year long successful career. The New York Times obituary noted yesterday, that Penn was “one of the 20th century’s most prolific and influential photographers of fashion and the famous.”

In my opinion, he was the last of the great iconic photographers from the golden age of the fashion magazine. Penn’s contemporary and sometime rival was the great, Richard Avedon. They were both hired and mentored by Alexey Brodovitch of Harper’s Bazaar‘s and inspired by the likes of Martin Munkacsi (Later, both Avedon and Penn would move to Vogue).

But his work was always on the cutting edge. In the 1980s and 1990s he began collaborating with innovative Japanese designer Issey Miyake. In July 2007, Vogue focused their issue on his contribution to fashion photography and helped to celebrate his 90th birthday with an interview and portfolio of his new and previously unpublished work. A forthcoming article from the Journal of Middle East Studies notes Penn’s contribution to Afghanistan’s representation in the fashion press.

Annie Leibovitz noted recently (on occasion of receiving a lifetime achievement award) that, ‘”The word lifetime seems pretty final, and there’s still a lot of work to do.” Irving Penn turns 92 next month and he’s still at it, she noted, before concluding, “Photography is not something you retire from.”‘

Photographs by Irving Penn:

(from his work with Issey Miyake)

(Veruschka, 1964)

The images below are some of my favorites from a 1999 Vogue feature on Star Wars Couture by Irving Penn:

For more information on the amazing work of Irving Penn, see the following resources:

Irving Penn: A Career in Photography

Irving Penn at the New York Times

Irving Penn at the Getty (on view Through January 2010)


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