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Irving Penn, fashion photographer, but also something else, has died at 92 years of age.  Elegant, fashionable – and hence acquainted with many of the famous figures of his time, and chronicler of same – his images often provide a concise collectively held impression of those he’s portrayed, however true or not:

pennslide4cocteauJean Cocteau

Pennslide5fransci baconFrancis Bacon

picassoPablo Picasso

Measured against his peer, fashion photographer Richard Avedon (died 2004), Penn wages an even battle.  Penn’s austere minimalism – the near omnipresent white background, the careful graphic orchestration, make for striking images.  Avedon’s less clinical approach seems a bit messier, if at the same time more lively.  Though it was when he branched away from fashionable things that he hit his best mark:  In the American West.  Here he provides a sequence of portraits of real westerners, but isolated against a flat white studio backdrop.  Somehow he manages to distill these people down to elemental truths:


richard_avedon_03From In the American West

cigar_stub_nov08 penn

To Irving Penn, the last cigar butt


Aaron Siskind

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