If you ask me whose work is the most inspirational to me, Irving Penn will be in my top five.
He was (June 16, 1917 – October 7, 2009) a leading American fashion and celebrity photographer who lifted fashion photography into the range of fine art.
No other photographer made women appear more attractive, mainly because of its elegant simplicity and minimalism.
He posed his models against a bare background (other photographers, including Richard Avedon, later used this technique) isolating his subjects from their context.
Having fewer distractions allows a viewer to put all the focus on the subject. Penn removed everything from the shot but the clothing and the model.
I am not a fan of studio photography. Usually, I find them pretentious and unnatural. However, he somehow managed to put people in an artificial environment and to direct them to artificial poses yet somehow making the final image feel natural. Photos look authentic, and models are becoming psychologically complex.
By putting celebrities into tight corners in awkward poses, he has managed to unveil unique elements of their characters. He was known to work with his models for many hours, just to achieve what he has planned.
”I am going to find what is permanent on this face. Truth comes with fatigue. He displays himself just as he is, just as he did not want to look.”
Penn’s studio photos are taken on simple grey background, using natural northern window light. Among many of his cameras, you could find Leica, Rolleiflex, Deardorff V8 and Hasselblad.