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Indepth Arts News:

"Irving Penn, A Career in Photography"
1999-07-28 until 1999-10-03
Ansel Adams Center for Photography
San Francisco, CA, USA United States of America

Irving Penn (b. 1917) is an artist whose photographs are familiar to many. His work has been included in many international exhibitions and is seen throughout the pages of Vogueand other magazines. This exhibition presents many famous images along with works never before seen, accompanied by archival materials portraying the complete career of this creative and influential artist. Penn's images and his archives serve as a record of cultural, economic, and political trends in the second half of this century.

From 1934 to 1938 Penn studied design at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art under Alexey Brodovitch, who had a great impact on his career. Recognizing Penn's talents, Brodovitch hired Penn as an illustrator and art designer for Harper's Bazaarand later, for Saks Fifth Avenue department store. Penn took time off from a design career to paint in Mexico, and upon his return to the United States, began working under the direction of Alexander Liberman, director of VogueMagazine. Originally hired to conceive of cover ideas, Penn was soon approached to photograph his own cover. Penn has since completed over 160 cover photographs for Vogue,and his long association with this magazine continues today.

Penn's cover work was only the beginning. Starting primarily with fashion and celebrity portraiture, he has branched out into several different genres. His personal and commercial work now encompasses additional subjects, including still lifes, nudes, travel and ethnographic studies, as well as advertising photography. A survey of Penn's career shows a unity and consistency throughout his work that is rare when approaching such a variety of subjects.

By pulling his subjects out of context, focusing on clothing and accessories while removing background information, Penn has modernized fashion photography. His images are imbued with a simplicity and elegance, yet they also reveal a fascination with decay. Often, his inclusion of threads, dust and dirt, along with wires and other elements from the photo shoot, are left within the frame of the photograph. His series of memento-moriobjects and found street material exemplifies an in-depth exploration of beauty inherent within the process of disintegration. Penn thus successfully challenges typical notions of beauty, giving dignity and nobility to cast-off objects and other unusual items.

Exploring different printing options was a paramount concern for Penn. Always striving for the best presentation of his work, he has become a master printer, revitalizing the platinum-palladium process as well as working with new techniques. The combination of innovative photography and meticulous printing has made Irving Penn one of the most significant photographers of the twentieth century.

Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated catalogue. Co-published by The Art Institute in conjunction with Bulfinch Press, Irving Penn, A Career in Photographyis the first monograph on the artist to comprehensively study his career in conjunction with his working process. This exhibition has been organized by The Art Institute of Chicago.


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