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One year ago: Irving Penn

Irving-penn

Irving Penn, who died one year ago at age 92, was one of the first commercial photographers to cross the chasm that separated commercial and art photography.

Penn, who began his work in the 1940s, had a "less is more" style that he applied to all his subjects -- models, cigarette butts, designer dresses. He isolated his subject against a plain backdrop, allowing for scarcely a prop and building a work of graphic perfection through his printing process.

Critics considered the results to be icons, not just images, each one greater than the person or object in the frame.

His most familiar photographs are the cosmetics ads he shot for Clinique that have appeared in magazines since 1968. Each image is a balancing act of face-cream jars, astringent bottles and bars of soap that threatens to collapse.

His work has appeared at New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he shot more than 150 covers for Vogue magazine.

"His approach was never obvious," Phyllis Posnick, who collaborated with Penn at Vogue, told The Times. "He would make us go further and dig deeper and look beyond the obvious solution to a photograph to find something that was unique. He had a great wit, and you see some of that in his pictures."

Penn's brother, the noted director Arthur Penn, whose films included "Bonnie and Clyde," died last month.

For more on the famous photographer, read Irving Penn's obituary by The Times. Also, see a photo gallery of his work.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Irving Penn in a 1943 self-portrait.

 
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