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Penn, Irving


PENN, IRVING (1917– ), U.S. photographer. Born in Plainfield, n.j., Penn studied at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, graduating in 1938. He is best known for his "aristocratic" fashion photography, but he is also a master of portraiture and still life. Originally a painter, Penn began working for Vogue magazine in 1943 and became one of America's most successful fashion photographers. His work was known for his cool, refined, and glamorously stylized images. Penn used plain backgrounds and natural light and was adept at capturing the essence of his sitter's personality. He photographed many of the world's most famous people and traveled worldwide to capture other human subjects. Many times his photographs were so ahead of their time that they came to be appreciated as important works years after their creation. A famous series of posed female nudes, from the normal to the plump, were shot in 1949–50 but were not seen until a few were exhibited in 1980. In 2002, 53 of them appeared in a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. By posing his subjects against a simple gray or white backdrop, to form a starkly acute corner, Penn was able to bring a sense of drama to his portraits, driving the viewer's focus onto the person and what the person's expression revealed. These subjects included Martha Graham, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O'Keeffe, W.H. Auden, Igor Stravinsky, and Marlene Dietrich. Penn started his own studio in 1953. His photographs are always posed or arranged. He also photographed still-life objects, including found objects, with great detail, clarity, and unusual arrangements, and his work is part of every major museum photography collection. His favorite model, Swedish-born Lisa Fonssagrives (1911–1992), a world-famous dancer, fashion designer, photographer, and sculptor, was also his wife.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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