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Irv in g P e n n The observat eye




Alinari Monografie Copyright Š 2013 Fratelli Alinari, Largo Fratelli Alinari, 15 Firenze ISBN 88- 7292-442-1 Direttore editoriale Giovanni Naldi Progetto Grafico Silvia Tulli Foto di copertina Irving Penn - Eugène Ionesco, New York, October 21, 1983

Irving Penn L’occhio attento

ALINARI monografie

Contents: 1. Overview Artist Biography Themes 2. Timeline with themes Advertising Ethnographic Studies Fashion Nudes Portraits Still Lifes Street and Travel Photography Book Projects

3. Cameras and Techniques

Rolleiflex 35 mm Cameras (Leica and Nikon) View Cameras (Studio, Banquet, and Hand-Made) Pointillism and the Point Source Enlarger Moving Light Dye Imbibition Prints Gelatin Silver Prints Platinum Prints Silver Dye-Bleach Prints

4. Audio Lecture: “What is Modern Photography� Recording: 1950 MoMA Symposium Alexey Brodovitch Analysis: Nude

Analysis: Platinum Prints

5. Bibliography and sitography


The Irving Penn Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago

Irving Penn (1917–2009) was one of the most important and influential photographers of the 20th century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked on professional and artistic projects across multiple genres. He was a master printer of both black-and-white and color photography and published more than nine books of his photographs and two of his drawings during his lifetime. In 1995, Irving Penn donated his archive to the Art Institute of Chicago. With that gift, the museum became one of the world’s leading repositories for photographs by Penn and material about his life and work. Housed in two locations—the Ryerson and Burnham Archives and the Department of Photography—the rich, diverse holdings are united for the first time on this website, creating pathways into Penn’s multi-faceted career. When the Irving Penn Archives arrived in May 1995, they had already been organized in a methodical manner by Penn himself. By building on some of the artist’s own subject categories and imposing a new structure, we gave further definition to what we had acquired in an effort to make the archives of easy use by scholars and the general public. This structure follows the extent of Penn’s career, representing all the different genres that his career has encompassed, including ethnography, fashion, portraiture, and

still life, among others. Linked closely in categorization, the two parts of the Penn Archives—the Paper and the Photographic Archives—can be easily cross-referenced. Housed in the Art Institute’s Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, the Paper Archive contains documents and correspondence both personal and professional. The Photographic Archive, composed of negatives, transparencies, and contact and test prints, is held by the Department of Photography. This archival material is extensive both in scope and content, spanning Penn’s career. It serves not only as an account of Penn’s career, providing insight into his working process, but also as a record of cultural, economic, and political trends in the second half of the 20th century. The files from his early portrait sittings, for example, contain correspondence, release forms, and studio diaries chronicling the sittings in detail. Many of these files (found in Paper Archive, Series IX) are expansive and reveal a glimpse into the lives of the influential individuals—actors, artists, politicians, writers, and more— whom Penn was asked to photograph. The Paper Archive is a significant statement of both the business and private dealings of a major photographer in the 20th century. Balancing this aspect, the Photographic Archive is an important index as well, documenting the breadth of Penn’s work and his creative processes while working.

What emerges from the combination of the Paper Archive and the Photographic Archive is a complete view of Irving Penn’s career, offering insight into how he worked and how he made decisions. Take, for example, Penn’s worksheets, which offer an excellent guide to the ways in which the Photographic Archive reveals his working methods. Demonstrating the meticulous records that Penn kept for each of his photograph, each worksheet includes details such as the equipment used, film type, and even emulsion lots. Documentation of each picture taken and several contact prints are part of the sheets. These worksheets are similar in format to the registration of technical data seen in the print and job documents located in the Paper Archive, Series XVI. Always concerned with technical aspects, Penn maintained scrupulous records— often in the form of contact sheets—cataloguing his working conditions. Contact sheets, which reside in the Photographic Archive, also exemplify how Penn carried certain ideas throughout his career. Correlations between advertising and still life are particularly apparent, as evidenced in a comparison between his Chanel advertisements and his well-known photograph 3 Steel Blocks (1980). Comparisons between early Ansco advertisements and later still lifes such as Italian Still Life (1981), also delineate how 9

Penn would recycle and build upon ideas throughout his career. The little-known image Sally Kirkland and Mrs. Jarechi’s Child (Liza Mears) playing dress-up (taken October 15, 1949; published in Vogue, December 1949, pp. 98–99) shows an early fascination with the parody of personalities that would recur later. Many other contact prints in the archive show little alteration between poses and illustrate how fully Penn articulated his ideas before he began taking photographs. One illustration of this is the mounted contact prints from the Paris Collection, 1950, showing Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn wearing the Lafaurie “Manola” dress. These marked contact prints reveal only slight variations from each other. The image Penn ultimately chose to print—in this case, only slightly different from the others of that sitting—demonstrates Penn’s discriminating eye. There are also many contact sheets of fashion and portrait sittings that correspond to paper files documenting those occasions. In addition, tear sheets from the Paper Archive found in loose format and in scrapbooks compiled by Penn often have the negative, contact print, and test print counterparts in the Photographic Archive. Exemplifying this idea are the Vogue tear sheets of a model wearing white “Marguerite” dresses, while Leon Danielian of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo portrays a very tempting Mephisto (Vogue, November 15, 1949, pp. 10

106–07). These tear sheets are interesting for the subject matter in itself. But the differences between the unused negatives and the published imagery also provide a notable comment on what degree of eroticism was permissible in 1949. These are but a few examples that illuminate personal and professional aspects of Irving Penn that one can gather from examining the Irving Penn Archives. Additional gifts of material from the Irving Penn Foundation, which we expect to arrive in the coming years, should round out the archive completely.

Jennifer Janauskas (edited by Nathaniel Parks)

Artist Biography Irving Penn (1917–2009) was one of the leading photographers of the 20th century. After studying design under Alexey Brodovitch at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now part of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia), Penn worked as a graphic artist in New York, creating illustrations for Harper’s Bazaar. After purchasing a Rolleiflex camera and experimenting with it for a while, he spent a year dedicated to painting, traveling through the southern United States and living in Mexico in 1942. Back in New York the next year, Penn was hired as Alexander Liberman’s assistant at Vogue, beginning a lifelong association with Liberman and Condé Nast Publications. His first cover appeared on the October 1943 issue. In 1944, Penn joined the American Field Service as an ambulance driver. He continued his association with Vogue by submitting articles from abroad that incorporated street photographs as well as portraits taken around the world. After his return to the United States in 1946, he regularly contributed to the magazine, making mainly fashion and portrait photographs. His oeuvre also encompassed ethnographic studies, still lifes, nudes, and advertising work. Many of these subjects were undertaken with the support of Condé Nast. In addition to photographing, Penn explored various printing processes, from gelatin silver and platinum/palladium to

chromogenic color and silver dye-bleach. His photographs were first shown in an art museum as part of the exhibition In and Out of Focus (1948) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; group and solo exhibitions have followed regularly ever since. In addition to his work for advertising and magazines, Penn undertook many personal projects including series of nudes, cigarettes, street trash, and memento mori objects. In the mid-1980s, Penn returned to his artistic roots in drawing and painting, “picking up threads dropped forty-some years before”.1 As in his photography, he experimented with form, color, and the physical properties of the media he employed. In 1999 Penn published Drawings, which illustrated studies, some later used to produce photographs, as well as finished paintings. Penn authored a number of additional publications during his long and varied career. They include Moments Preserved (1960), Worlds in a Small Room (1974), Flowers (1980), Passage: A Work Record (1991), and A Notebook at Random (2004). Other books are collaborative efforts, such as Inventive Paris Clothes (1977) with Diana Vreeland and a series of books with the designer Issey Miyake featuring Miyake’s clothes. Jennifer Jankauskas (edited and expanded by Natasha Derrickson)


Themes Irving Penn worked across a variety of genres in commercial assignments and artistic pursuits throughout his long career. Each theme essay presents an overview of his work in that area, points to relationships between his commercial and artistic projects, and describes relevant material in the Irving Penn Paper and Photographic Archives.

Book Projects

Street and Travel photography

Penn published his first book, Moments Preserved, in 1960. He continued to publish books of his magazine work and personal artistic projects throughout his career, producing a total of 12 during his lifetime.


Immediately following his graduation from art school, Penn began to take street photographs in New York City. In his commercial career, he frequently received travel essay assignments from Vogue and Look magazines until reader tastes changed in the mid-1960s.

Irving Penn worked across a variety of genres in commercial assignments and artistic pursuits throughout his long career. Each theme essay presents an overview of his work in that area, points to relationships between his commercial and artistic projects, and describes relevant material in the Irving Penn Paper and Photographic Archives. Penn began taking advertising photographs in 1952 and worked for notable campaigns, such as for General Foods and Clinique, throughout the rest of career.

Ethnographic Studies Primarily on assignment for magazines, Penn worked on a variety of what he called ethnographic projects, photographing individuals in neutral studio settings in the United States and around the world. 12

Portraits Penn took penetrating portraits of the cultural elite for Vogue magazine beginning in the mid-1940s, and continued to make portraits for the magazine until 2008.



Penn was one of the first photographers to pose models against a sparse background, and his photographs of the 1950 Paris Collections with such settings are some of his most iconic. Penn continued to focus intensely on the technical aspects of garments in his fashion photographs throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s, Penn collaborated closely with Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

From summer 1949 through January 1950, Penn photographed and printed a series of nudes, his first independent artistic project since becoming a commercial photographer. These photographs went largely unseen until 1980.

Still Life Penn’s first Vogue photographic cover was a still life, a genre that he pursued in magazine work throughout his career. Beginning in the 1970s, Penn worked on still life projects independently of his magazine work as well.


TimeLine Penn Life Street and Travel Advertising Still Life Portraits Fashion Ethnographic Nudes

Takes his first fashion photographs for Vogue. These fashion photographs demonstrate the clothing styles worn during World War II.

Travels around the world on assignment for Vogue.

Purchases his first camera —a Rolleiflex—and explores New York during his free time, taking photographs of street scenes and window displays.

Becomes art director for Saks Fifth Avenue

Vogue publishes Penn’s first cover on October 1, a color still life of autumn fashion accessories.

Takes his first portraits for Vogue. The portraits are color photographs of prominent public figures surrounded by objects that reference aspects of their personalities or careers.

Photographs first still lifes for Vogue to illustrate articles or to serve as amusements and surprises for the reader.







Travels to Cuzco, Peru and rents a studio where he photographs locals passing through the city during the Christmas holiday. Travels to Italy on assignment for Vogue photographing architects, designers, artists, and writers in Milan; street entertainers in Naples; intellectuals in Rome.

Travels to Morocco on assignment for Vogue where he photographs landscapes, fashion, portraits, and street scenes, often using the long telephoto lens.

Visits Joan Miró while traveling in Spain and takes portraits of the artist and his daughter.

Photographs the 1950 Paris fall collections for Vogue in black-and-white.

Travels to Spain on assignment for Vogue where he takes photographs using a telephoto lens with the intent to print them using the point source enlarger for a pointillist effect.

Travels to Spain on assignment for Vogue, working on a feature inspired by Picasso’s time spent in Barcelona.

Photographs London workmen continuing the Small Trades series while on assignment there for Vogue to take portraits of people in the arts.

Travels to Paris on Assignment for Vogue, where he photographs leisure scenes along the Seine with a long telephoto lens.

Travels to France on assignment for Vogue, taking portraits of figures in the arts, including Dora Maar.

Travels to Paris to see the unveiling of the Paris fall collections on Alexander Liberman’s suggestion.

Photographs Paris workmen wearing the clothes and carrying the tools of their trades.

Photographs New York City workmen concluding the Small Trades series.

Begins using a corner device in portraits. By pushing two theater flats together, Penn creates a space that his sitters can interact with or pose against in portraits for Vogue.

Photographs the female nude his first personal artistic endeavor. He primarily focuses on the torso, and experiments with different printing techniques

Vogue publishes Penn’s first black-and-white cover on April 1, a photograph of model Jean Patchett wearing a black-and-white outfit inspired by Christian Dior’s New Look.

Takes portraits in Washington DC of more than 80 government, military, and society figures for Vogue at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C.

Begins advertising photography in New York City in addition to his commercial work at Vogue on a freelance basis.








Fish made of Fish, New York 1939


Copertina di Vogue, New York 1946


Coppia in canoa fotografia pubblicitaria per De Beers Long Island , New York 1954


Ethnographic Studies

Three men sitting with masks, Cuzco 1948


Tre donne, Creta 1964


Ragazza scarnificata, Dahomey 1967


Sopra Due donne con anelli al naso, Nepal 1967; A fianco Tre uomini-fango Asaro, Nuova Guinea 1970 32


Due Guedras Marocco 1971



Copertina di Vogue Jean Patchett, New York 1950


Stola di Pelliccia DIor Jean Patchett, New York 1950 40

Ampia manica (Sunny Harnett), New York 1951

Carson McCullers, New York 1950


Donna con la schiena nuda, New York 1961




Nudo n.18, New York 1949-50 46

Nudo n.139, New York 1949-50 47


Ballet Society (Corrado Cagli Vittorio Rieti Tanaquil Le Clercq e George Balanchine), New York 1948


Marlene Dietrich, New York 1948


Richard Burton, Londra 1950


Dr e Mrs Gilbert H. Grosvenor, Washington DC 1951


Ludwing Mies van der Rohe, New York 1955 58

Frederich Kiesler e Willem de Kooning, New York 1960 59

Francis Bacon, Londra 1962


Vladimir Nabokov a caccia di farfalle, Italia 1966


Saul Steinberg con maschera New York 1966


Gruppi Rock (Big Brother and Holding Company e The grateful Dead) San Francisco 1967


Isamu Noguchi, New York 1983


James Van Der Zee, New York 1983


Still Life

Ingredienti per l’insalata, New York 1947


Due bicchieri d’acqua New York 1970


Street and travel Photography

Corteo funebre davanti alla Sagrada Familia di GaudĂŹ, Barcellona 1948


Running Children, Rabat, Morocco 1951


Sonno Estivo, New York 1949


Camera and Techniques

Irving Penn was a technical master, using a variety of cameras, techniques, and printing processes to capture his impeccably composed photographs. After studying graphic design in school, Penn purchased his first camera in 1938, experimenting with it during the first years he was working in New York City. When he was hired by Vogue in 1942, Penn had access to the CondÊ Nast photography studio, which featured state of the art equipment and printing laboratories. At a time when color photography was prohibitively expensive for individual photographers, the resources of the magazine afforded Penn the opportunity to master color in addition to black-and-white photography. In his studio work, Penn most frequently used large format view cameras but broadened out with his use of a 35mm camera in conjunction with a telephoto lens for many of his magazine travel assignments beginning in 1950. In addition to cameras, Penn used other equipment—including photographic enlargers and modified fresnel stage lights—to achieve particular visual results in his photographs. Having established himself in the commercial world, Penn turned to an interest in photographs as objects in the early 1960s. In 1964, he began experimenting with the platinum printing process as a reaction

to how his photographs appeared on the printed pages of magazines, which were using increasingly thin paper in cost-cutting efforts. His years of intense research about and experimentation with the platinum process came to fruition in 1967 when Penn began reprinting his negatives in the medium. His new work was printed in platinum in the 1970s, and the 1972 series of cigarette butts was the first series conceived of entirely as platinum prints. Although Penn is most known for his luxurious platinum prints, he also used gelatin silver prints to achieve different graphic results. For example, in his 1949/50 series of nudes, Penn bleached and redeveloped the gelatin silver prints, which effectively blurred fine details and created flat planes of light and shadow. His 1986 still life series of animal skulls, printed in gelatin silver, uses sharp contrast to emphasize the mechanical aspects of the skulls.

Antique Shop, Pine Street, Philadelphia1938 86



35mm Cameras

In 1938, Irving Penn used money he had earned working for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar to purchase his first camera, a Rolleiflex. In his free time, he used the Rolleiflex to explore the streets of New York City, taking “camera notes”1 of the street scenes and peculiar window displays. Penn also brought the Rolleiflex on his trvels through the Southern United States to Mexico, where he went to paint in 1942. The Rolleiflex is a twin-lens reflex camera with a rigid metal body that was introduced in 1929. This medium-format camera was designed with two separate compartments stacked one on top of the other, and Penn would have viewed the image through a ground-glass screen at the top of the camera, while the lens in the bottom compartment captured the picture. The Rolleiflex typically takes 120 roll film and produces a 6 x 6 centimeter square image. The Rolleiflex is a relatively simple camera, with only later models employing more complex components such as a built-in light meter or interchangeable viewfinders. It is this simplicity, however— combined with its compact size and sturdy construction—that Penn favored.

Irving Penn began using a 35mm Leica camera in 1950 during his travel assignments for Vogue. Although Leica and other camera designers had been producing small, metal single-lens reflex cameras that used 35mm film since the mid-1920s, they did not gain popularity until after World War II. The 35mm camera features a modular body that can be used with interchangeable lenses and other accessories such as rangefinders and viewfinders. When Penn traveled to France, Spain, and Morocco in 1950, he frequently used a telephoto lens with the Leica in order to capture distant images. In the late 1950s, Penn converted his studio equipment from Leica to a Nikon system, essentially trading the rangefinder-style Leica camera for the newer single-lens reflex design of the Nikon. Penn recalls: In a burst of romantic passion for this new apparatus (forgetting gratitude to the Leica and with even a certain amount of disloyalty) I diverted myself of all our studios [sic] elaborate and superb Leica equipment, taking a terrible financial beating in the process, not finding a panacea and exchanging one set of headaches for another.1 While it was the telephoto lens that initially drew him to the 35mm camera, Penn came to appreciate the precision he could achieve with the various adjustments available. Because of the small film size, 35mm


cameras take incredibly sharp pictures and offer a higher level of control over depth of field compared to twin-lens reflex cameras such as the Rolleiflex. The small format 35mm film, however, necessitated use of a photographic enlarger when printing the negatives—a shift from the contact printing process Penn was able to employ with large format film—yet the use of an enlarger opened a new world of possibilities in the manipulation of images.

View Cameras ( Studio, Banquet, and Hand - Made )

Photographs with Moving Light

In his early studio work for Vogue, Irving Penn frequently used large format Deardorff view cameras (including a 4-by-5-inch and an 8-by-10-inch model) to photograph still lifes, portraits, and fashion. The view camera features a flexible bellows between the lens and the film stage, often with arms that controlled the bellows’ rise, fall, tilt, and swing. These movements control the effect of light on the film, which in turn allowed Penn to adjust image sharpness and depth of field depending on the lens he was using. View cameras typically use a large format sheet film, producing one or two frames per negative. In 1979, Penn acquired a banquet camera, a horizontally oriented large format view camera that had been popular in the early twentieth century for taking group portraits. After many years of working with smaller view cameras, the banquet camera’s 12-by-20-inch negatives were significantly larger than anything with which Penn had worked previously, yet its rectangular shape mimicked that of a double-page spread, the gold standard in magazine and advertising photography. Penn used the banquet camera Penn for a series of vanitas still life photographs (1979/80). Because the camera used 12-by-20-inch negatives, Penn was able to contact print the negatives in platinum without enlarging them first.

In the 1990s, Irving Penn began experimenting with light. Moving a motorized fresnel stage light equipped with a narrow aperture across a subject over a long exposure time, he created a unique expression of the subject in which any movement resulted in a distortion of the image in the fina l print. This is easily visible in the still life Wide Skull (1993), where Penn or an assistant turned the skull to each side during the exposure to achieve the amorphous effect. In order to make these images,1 Penn used a 12 x 20 inch view camera modified for rapid focus shifts, a technique he applied to other genres including fashion and still life; for portraits, he used an 8 x 10 inch camera.



Dye Imbibition Prints

Platinum Prints

In a dye imbibition print, commonly called a dye transfer print, three separate sheets of negative film are produced through red, green, and blue filters. From these negatives, gelatin matrices are created with cyan, magenta, and yellow dyes. The matrices are lined up exactly on the paper, and the combination of transferred dye images creates a final full-color print. Dye imbibition prints are noted for their permanence. The black-and-white matrix film used in the process is more stable than chromogenic color film, so new dye imbibition prints can be made for many years after the original print.

In a platinum print, the paper is first coated by hand with a solution of light-sensitive platinum salts and left to dry in a process called sensitizing. The negative is then placed in direct contact with the sensitized paper and exposed via either sun or artificial ultraviolet light. Following exposure, the print is put in the developer and the clearing bath before the final wash. After the image is dried, the printer can repeat the process of coating the paper and exposing the negative multiple times if necessary. Deacidification of the paper is the final step, and the process results in a single-layer print with the image embedded in the paper fibers. To help withstand multiple coatings, exposures, and dryings, and to prevent warping, Penn affixed the paper to an aluminum support. Penn devised a system of precise registration punches to ensure the paper and negatives would remain perfectly aligned through the multi-step process. By using different negatives of varying contrasts, Penn was able to achieve great depths of tone and contrast in his final prints.

Pointillism and the Point Source Enlarger

Gelatin Silver Prints

Silver Dye - Bleach Prints

Pointillism is a painting technique Georges Seurat (French, 1859–1891) created in the 1880s and employed in his famous painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 (set on an island in the Seine River in France), in which small “points” of colors are applied in patterns to form the image. Wanting to create a similar effect photographically, Irving Penn constructed a point source enlarger to be used with a zirconium arc lamp in 1951. While the enlarger afforded several advantages, including sharpness, Penn enlarged only very small sections of the 35mm negative. Because of the low resolution in each small area of reproduction and the sharpness of the enlarger, the resulting image emphasized the film grain, blurring fine details during the process. When Penn began experimenting with printing techniques generally in the 1960s, he primarily used the point source enlarger to enlarge negatives for printing images in pigment on porcelain-coated steel sheets (see Couple Fishing from Bank of Seine, France 1951) and for contact printing on gelatin silver paper or in platinum (see View of Fez, Morocco 1951 and Cretan Landscape 1964 respectively).

Gelatin silver printing has been the primary black-and-white process since its development in the late 1880s and consists of three layers—paper, baryta, and gelatin—on which an image is produced. The paper essentially serves as a base, with the baryta layer (a surface preparation of barium sulfate) sitting on top to separate the image-containing gelatin layer from the paper support. The gelatin layer is made up of an emulsion that consists of light-sensitive silver compounds that form the image following exposure of the negative and development in a chemical bath. Another distinguishing feature is the smooth, even image surface. Photographers often use additional chemicals on gelatin silver prints in order to alter the range of tone and make the print more permanent.

Whereas a black-and-white print requires paper with one layer of emulsion—a light sensitive coating—a silver dye-bleach print (or dye destruction print) such as a Cibachrome print is made on paper containing three emulsion layers, each sensitized to one of the three primary colors of light—red, blue, or green. During development the silver and extra color dyes are selectively bleached away to achieve the desired final colors. Silver dye-bleach prints are noted for their color saturation, clarity, and stability.1

1 The text for silver-dye bleach prints is taken from an handout defining technical terms produced by the Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago to accompany the exhibit When Color Was New, February 24–April 29, 2007.


Audio Lecture:

“What is Modern Photography”

Recording: 1950 MoMA Symposium Irving Penn participated in the symposium “What is Modern Photography?” at the Museum of Modern Art on October 20, 1950. Edward Steichen moderated the symposium, and other participants included Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans, Gjon Mili, Lisette Model, Write Morris, Homer Page, Ben Shahn, Charles Sheeler, and Aaron Siskind. Irving Penn is introduced by Steichen at approximately 49:20 and begins speaking at 50:19.

Alexey Brodovitch Born in Russia in 1898 to aristocratic parents, Alexey Brodovitch (died 1971) dreamt of becoming an artist when he was a young man but was forced into military service. He served in the Imperial Calvary during World War I, then joined the White Army to fight the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. In 1920, Brodovitch moved to Paris with his wife, Nina, settling with other Russian émigré artists in the Montparnasse neighborhood. There Brodovitch first took a job painting houses. As he increased his social contacts among artists, he found more artistic work painting sets for the Ballets Russes. His exposure to vanguard art movements such as Constructivism, as well as to the Art Deco style and popular forms of pastiche, fueled an intense interest in photography, 92

typography, and their combinations. Brodovitch began working as a freelance graphic designer, taking commissions for posters, advertisements, and even restaurant menus. Brodovitch arrived in the United States in 1930 and moved to Philadelphia, where he established the Department of Advertising Design at the Museum School of Industrial Art (now part of the University of the Arts). He introduced his students to cutting-edge magazines and other leading design work from Europe that had not yet had an impact on graphic design in the United States. In 1933, he formed a Design Laboratory course at the college, which met on Saturdays and used contemporary examples and technology to explore innovative design possibilities. As a student at the Museum School of Industrial Art (1934–38), Irving Penn was one of Brodovitch’s early pupils in the Design Laboratory. In 1934, Harpers Bazaar editor Carmel Snow saw Brodovitch’s work in New York City. She immediately suggested the magazine hire him as an art director. He frequently used Surrealist devices in his layouts, which featured constellations of small photographs, a clever use of white space, and contemporary fonts. Penn assisted Brodovitch during the summers of 1937 and 1938 in the art department of Harper’s Bazaar, where he worked on layouts and made drawings or took

photographs to illustrate articles. After Penn finished art school, he worked full time at the magazine and was exposed to photographers such as Martin Munkacsi and George Hoyningen-Huene, who were beginning to change the look of fashion photography. Brodovitch frequently took on extra projects and jobs outside of his duties as art director of Harper’s Bazaar. From 1935 to 1937, he photographed several ballet companies using a 35mm camera and slow exposure time. The resulting ethereal images were published in the 1945 photographic book Ballet. In addition to personal projects, Brodovitch often sought out freelance design work. In 1939, Brodovitch took a position at the upscale New York City department store, Saks Fifth Avenue. He designed a variety of products for the store, including advertisements, logos, and wrapping paper. Penn worked there as his assistant, and later inherited the position when Brodovitch left in 1941 to take on another freelance position at I. Miller Shoes. In addition to his work at the magazine and freelance commissions, Brodovitch continued to teach his innovative Design Laboratory classes, which from 1941 to 1966 were held as evening sessions in New York City. During the early 1940s, Brodovitch and other art directors including Alexander Liberman (who became art director at the rival fashion magazine Vogue in 1943)

Nude No. 130, New York, 1949/50

were responsible for dramatically changing the design of magazines by including more photographs, experimenting with different fonts and layouts, and seeking different work in photography to match the expression of modernity in their new designs. The dynamism Brodovitch demanded was found in the era’s rising photographers: Penn, who began working at Vogue in 1942, and Richard Avedon, who worked at Harper’s Bazaar from 1945 until he moved to Vogue in 1966. Two fires in 1956—one at his farmhouse in Pennsylvania, the other at his home in East Hampton, Long Island, New York— caused Brodovitch great personal loss, including the destruction of much of his life’s work. Brodovitch, who struggled with alcoholism, was fired in 1958 from Harper’s Bazaar. His wife Nina died the next year, inducing a severe depression for which (along with the alcoholism) he was often hospitalized beginning in the 1960s. In 1967, after breaking his hip, Brodovitch left the United States for a village in southern France, where he died in 1971. In 1972, the Philadelphia College of Art posthumously awarded Brodovitch a doctorate of fine arts and mounted an exhibition titled Alexey Brodovitch and His Influence. The exhibition catalog for the 1972 show contains quotations by many of the artists and designers Brodovitch mentored throughout his long career. Penn, one of Brodovitch’s early

protégés, said of his teacher and first professional mentor: This curious, remarkable man who managed somehow to germinate seeds of talent unknown even to the person who carried them. He did this with such regularity and over such a long period of time that chance could not be the explanation.1

Analysis: Nude NO. 130 Irving Penn’s career has had its extraordinary longevity (now spanning sixty years) because he has been able to maintain a certain balance in the projects he has undertaken. He is perhaps most famous for his fashion photography of the world’s most beautiful models wearing the season’s most elegant clothes. But one reason he has been able to keep this subject matter fresh for so long is that he has never lost sight of another, more fundamental notion of womanhood. A series of nudes that he made in i949 and 1950 counterpoised against the wraithlike women in couture dresses a group of heavy, art-school models in, mostly, fallen postures. These “Earthly Bodies,” as he himself called them in later exhibitions and publications, reminded his viewers of the ungainly, the maternal, the unglamorous, indeed the human, all-too-human side of being a woman. The photographs

gave great offense when first made-they weren’t shown until thirty years later- and they still make many people uncomfortable. Their audacity lies not just in their subject matter but in Penn’s treatment of the prints. Penn devised a darkroom technique whereby he overexposed each print until it was absolutely black; he then bleached the print in order to remove the excess chemistry and bring out the subject again. This is what makes the prints look as if an etching process was employed that eats away at the surface in order to create the image. (In Nude No. 130 this effect is particularly noticeable in the shadow areas.) In a sense, Penn did to the photographic materials what these subjects had done to their bodies, stretching the physical limits as far as they would go. This is an imagery in which technique and subject matter-art and life-each meet their match. Thus did Penn achieve in the nudes that perfect balance for which he is ever searching.

Colin Westerbeck


Analysis: Platinum Prints Photographers have often considered the platinum process to be one of the most beautiful printing techniques, and the viewers of photography have often considered Irving Penn to be one of the greatest photographers. Penn gained recognition as one of the great fashion and portrait photographers in the pages of Vanity Fair. During the past ten years he has been experimenting with the platinum process and has succeeded in printing many of his best photographs by this process. Through a gift from Mrs. Leigh B. Block, the museum has acquired ten of these spectacular prints. The platinum process as used by Penn includes the use of platinum, palladium, and iridium metals in the formation of the final image. Penn first coats a paper with a ferric (iron) salt, lays a large copy negative on the prepared paper, exposes this combina- tion to a strong xenon light, and develops. The resulting photographic image in ferric and ferrous salts becomes visible through development, actually a kind of toning with platinum or palladium metal. The print is fixed in hydrochloric acid and washed. Sometimes additional coatings and exposures are required. The prints, which average about 15 x 20 inches, retain the surface characteristics of the paper upon which they were printed, but the image retains those delicacies of tone that were present in the negative. The platinum process first became popular in the 188os, but died as a commercial 94

process in the 1920s because of the high cost of platinum. Recently, it has been revived as a printing technique, but only by those photographers willing to make their own photographic papers. Four of the platinum prints by Penn are presenly on view in Gallery Io6 in an exhibition of recent acquisitions made for the collection of photography during 1976 and 1977.

David Travis Associate Curator of Photography

PRINT AND DRAWING DEPARTMENT THE GLORE PRINT STUDY ROOM The Glore Print Study Room is open to members and to students and faculty of universities and colleges from I:oo to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (excepting legal holidays). Appointments should be made by groups of more than four persons and by visitors who are not members of the Art Institute, college students, or teachers.

Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, France, 1957 95

Bibliography and Sitography

Momenti di Irving Penn, otto saggi in immagini e parole, Alexandra Arrowsmith, Nicola Majocchi, Alexander Liberman, editoriale Domus Milano Passage: A Work Record Publisher Alfred a Knopf Inc, 1991, Hardcover Archivio Art Institute of Chicago


Irving Penn, who said he never wanted to “be a personage,” was nevertheless one of the twentieth century’s great artists, a photographer with a style so uniquely his own that it had already earned its own “aesthetic copyright,” as Vogue put it, by 1948—when the jeans-and-sneakers-wearing Jersey boy had been working for the magazine for only three years. Mr. Penn, as he is still respectfully remembered in the halls at 4 Times Square, worked for Vogue for seven decades. Lined up along gallery walls, his portraits alone would form a rich visual history of the cultural life of the twentieth century. Mostly, these were taken in a specially built set that forced the sitter’s body into a corner and, often, his or her id out into the open. Reminiscing with the fashion writer Kennedy Fraser in 2007 about his start in the business, Penn insisted, “I didn’t know Balenciaga from a baseball player.”His patient tutor was the Swedish-born model Lisa Fonssagrives—the future Mrs. Penn—whom he met when working on a story called “12 Beauties” for Vogue in 1947. In 1950 they created one of the most famous fashion portfolios of all time: an 18-page sonata in gray, black, and white, featuring Jacques Fath’s mermaid shapes, Cristóbal Balenciaga’s drapes, Jean Dessès’s tunics, and the natural northern light Penn so loved. So radically different were these images from the staged, froufrou settings popular at the time that Vogue’s editors were said to have commented that they “burned on the page.” Although Penn was a witness to and participant in all of the industry’s major shifts between the end of World War II and the start of the new millennium—from the New Look to cyberpunk—fashion, per se, was never his primary focus. It was beauty itself that was his grail: beauty observed in the haute couture or a garden, in a village in Dahomey or Crete, in the rolls of flesh or street detritus underfoot. To all of these he applied what his brother, the film and theater director Arthur Penn, defined in Vogue as his “merciless but unencumbered eye.” The Lisa Fonssagrives - Penn Trust Published in Vogue, 2009

Foto di copertina: Irving Penn, Due bicchieri d’acqua, New York, 1970

Euro 35

Irving Penn  

Monograph's layout of the photographer Irving Penn produced by Silvia Tulli texts of