Penn and People

So far on my blog journey I’ve only written about one famous photographer (David Hobby). So today I thought I’d redress that imbalance a little and talk about one of the most iconic photographers of the 20th Century and someone whose photographs I love – Irving Penn.

Back in February 2010 I was lucky enough to win free entry to an exhibition of Penn’s work at the National Portrait Gallery. I remember that time vividly as it coincided with my father’s death from prostate cancer.

Barnett Newman3


I’d been aware of Penn from various articles that came out after his death in late 2009 but didn’t really appreciate where he fitted in to the history of modern photography or the array of famous people who clamoured to be photographed by him. The exhibition had a wonderful array of photos – a veritable who’s who of famous faces from the 30’s to the 2000’s. Here’s a link to his Wikipedia entry.

I remember especially his Barnett Newman (above) and a few others – all of these are taken from the NPG website;


Nicole Kidman


He was particularly known for photographing people in a corner, as with the shot of Truman Capote (second from top) and this one of the Duchess of Windsor taken in 1948.

Duchess of Windsor

While it’s nice to get out and take photographs it is also important to hone your skills by studying the work of others. If you are at all interested in portrait photography – particularly if you’re looking for a more unique and quirky angle – then Irving Penn is one person you should pay special attention to.  There are many books available on his work, here’s a link to the collection of Irving Penn on Amazon.

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