Irving Penn

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Irving Penn, self-portrait In A Cracked Mirror. NY 1986

Irving Penn 1917 ~ 2009

As part of my research on Irving Penn I viewed the excellent Podcast of The Art of Photography by Ted Forbes dated 4th March 2016. Forbes’ records and illustrates Penn’s work with Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue and uses the catalogue from the Beyond Beauty exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, USA to exemplify his work with Dali, his portraits and still life. Forbes explains the development of Penn’s style, his use of ‘corners’ and a ‘rolled-up carpet’ to enable the viewer to focus on the subject and not on the celebrity. Forbes enthusiastically described Penn’s portrait of Miles Davis, which consisted of 12 images of Davis’ hand on his trumpet. Like all of Ted’s Podcasts, a thoroughly good video and I can recommend all his work.

I’ve been looking at Irving Penn as part of a University assignment on self-portraits and I discovered this quote by Penn.

“Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is the one they would like to show the world…very often what lies behind the façade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe.” Irving Penn 1975

What I find curios about this quote is that when Penn produces his self-portrait in 1986 he chooses to record the image via a cracked mirror, thus distorting his image. Perhaps this could be an example of self confidence, at the time of writing the piece Penn was 58 years old and the photograph was taken when he was 69; was Penn getting tired in ’86? Was he trying to make a statement, or just having fun, or experimenting? Or is he suggesting that he has hidden, yet undiscovered, depths to his creativity or persona? Or is he really saying that no one sees the true Irving Penn? Is he inviting the viewer to look deeper into the man?

Update: 16th April 2016

Ted Forbes has produced a great YouTube video on an Irving Penn show, Beyond Beauty, in Dallas from 15th April until 14th August. I’d love to attend, but I’ll have to make do with his fab video.

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