We all know Irving Penn’s fabulous fashion shots for Vogue and his portraits of famous writers and painters. But I had never seen his series of Cuzco peasants photographed in 1948 nor his cigarette buts which were so visionary at the time : the exhibition of mostly black and white pictures at the Grand Palais is stunning and so elegantly laid out on walls painted in different shades of grey!Born a hundred years ago, Irving Aaron Penn started out as a painter and lived in Coyoacan, Mexico, with his first wife Mary Faulconer. He was hired in 1943 by Alexander Liberman at Vogue as art director in charge of covers. In October, his first colour photograph makes the cover of Amercian Vogue. The following year, his fashion photographs are published in the magazine. His picture of « the 12 models most photographed » in 1947 is a turning point in his career and in his life. He marries one of them, Lisa Fonssagrives.
The elegance and the minimalism of his studio pictures is legendary. What is less known is his experience in Cuzco, Peru. Sent to do some fashion shoots for the February 1949 issue of Vogue, he spends three more days alone in the Inca city. He borrows the local photographer’s studio and pays local peasants to sit for him.
The result is two thousand portraits in black and white and color, focusing on the clothes and the faces of this high altitude populaiton. The result is outsanding. The issue of Vogue is exhibited in a show case.
In the first room of the show , colour stilllives are extremely fun and include witty capitons like afterdinner games ac upof coffee with chess and cards) or salad ingredients, a beautiful still life with two spoons for oil and vinegar. On the second floor, the 23 pictures of cigarette buts make you want to quit instantly.They are so modern and efficicent at the same time.
If you are keen on fashion pictures, you will find here the best examples of his work for Vogue as well as a petal Mouth for l’Oréal. I did not particularly like his nudes nor his Petits Métiers, which I found more conventional, but really enjoyed his portraits from Morocco, Dahomey, New Guinea, assembled in the room « Le Monde dans un studio », the world in a studio.
This exhibition is made with the collection of the Irving Penn Foundation promised to the Metropolitan museum. (Grand Palais until January 29, 2018)
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