I’m in New York for 10 days for work and was very excited to find this retrospective of Irving Penn. It also seems fitting to see it in New York. When I moved back to London in 2005 after living here for five years I felt homesick and decided to buy a Beranice Abbott photo of mid town New York with twinkling lights that I saw on a 2 page Evening Standard advert for a photography gallery called Hacklebury in Kensington. This has subsequently become my favourite London photography gallery and the owner, Marcus, is fabulously generous and contagious with his love of this art form. He likes nothing better than to help newbies as well as collectors develop and discover their taste in photography. A couple of years later I was by chance back in New York seeing friends when Marcus took a number of friends of the gallery to a private viewing in Manhattan of a photography collection during which he introduced me to lots of Irving Penn whom I wasn’t that familiar with before.
The corner series
It is amazing how a corner juxtaposed with one personality can bring out the opposite effect compared with when the corner is juxtaposed with another personality. Take Joe Louis the boxer who seems so big in a corner that can’t contain him. Whereas Truman Capote seems subsumed by it retreating into his inner world. For Stravinsky the corner seems to squeeze out his inspiration until he hears something magical that defies us but we know will be special. Salvador Dali has fun and must be imagining something surreal.
The picture below for vogue is one of my favourite’s in the whole exhibition but as a chap I got chatting to said “I keep thinking I’ve found my favourite and then I find a new favourite”. Isn’t this just the quintessential aspirational elegance of Paris fashion scene in the 30s?!
Here are another couple of favourites which I’ll come back to straighten up when I figure out some Mac photo editing software.
When Vogue sent Penn to Cusco for a fashion shoot he managed to get a few days to himself and shot 300+ photos of locals. Many of them look very posed but this one is reminiscent of Cartier Bresson paris shots of boys with baguettes or bicycles. Here the boy is selling a newspaper
He entered a phase where he did some very weighty portraits after studying the lighting and shades of some of the greatest artists. Picasso seems to see straight through the viewer whereas Audrey Hepburn looks the most engaging and charming person you could ever want to meet – and Richard Burton – well even more a heart throb in real life.
He was disturbed by the health issues of smoking, driven by corporate America and the resulting series of cigarette stubs collected from the gutter, representing people
The nudes were wonderfully abstract
Don’t miss this gem of an exhibition which runs till July 30th 2017. If you live outside New York now is a terrific time to visit – there are a large number of wonderful exhibitions on including another one at the Met Age of Empires (on China), one at the Natural History on Cuba and some others at the Guggenheim. If you like photography make sure to visit the Reuben (150 west 15th Street) that has a floor of Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs from his India shoots during his Magnum days.