Remembering Famous American Fashion Photographer Irving Penn

In this blog post, we remember the life and work of fashion photographer Irving Penn.

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Fashion photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009) was Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, United States. He is known for his work at Vogue magazine, as well as his commercial photography. Some of his most famous works include portraits of Truman Capote, Marlene Dietrich, and Pablo Picasso; fashion photographs; and nudes. In 1992, Penn was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the United States government.

Early Life and Career

born in 1917 in Plainfield, New Jersey, Penn began his career as a fashion photographer for Saks Fifth Avenue in the early 1940s. His work caught the eye of Alexey Brodovitch, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, who hired Penn as a staff photographer. Penn’s first published photograph appeared on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1943.

Penn quickly gained a reputation as one of the fashion world’s most talented and original photographers. He was known for his simple, elegant photographic style and his ability to capture the essence of his subjects. Penn photographed some of the world’s most famous models and celebrities, including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Pablo Picasso.

Penn also did a great deal of advertising work during his career. He created iconic images for such companies as Givenchy, Estee Lauder, and Camel cigarettes. In 1967, Penn was hired by Vogue magazine to shoot a series of photographs featuring everyday people wearing clothes by top fashion designers. The series was an instant success and helped to establish Penn as one of the most popular photographers of his generation.

Penn continued to work until his death in 2009. His photographs are now considered to be among the finest examples of twentieth-century fashion photography.

Photography Style

Irving Penn was an American fashion photographer who rose to fame in the 1940s and 1950s. His work was known for its clean, elegant lines and its ability to capture the essence of his subjects. Penn’s style was greatly influenced by his training as a graphic designer, and he often used simple backdrops and props to create his famous images.

Penn’s work appeared in many of the most popular magazines of his day, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Life. He also did commercial work for companies such as Shell Oil and I. Miller shoes. In addition to his fashion photography, Penn also worked in portraiture and still life. He is perhaps best known for his portraits of celebrities and other notable figures, such as Pablo Picasso, Marlene Dietrich, and Joan Crawford.

Penn died in 2009 at the age of 92. His work continues to be highly respected within the fashion industry, and his images are sought after by collectors around the world.

Notable Works

Irving Penn (1917-2009) was a world-famous fashion photographer who also did portraiture and still life. He began his career in the late 1930s as an assistant to Alexey Brodovitch, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, and he became a staff photographer for the publication in 1943. Penn’s work appeared regularly in Vogue and other magazines throughout his career. His photographs are characterized by clean composition, exacting lighting, and a disciplined approach to printmaking.

Penn’s fashion work is noted for its innovative use of backdrops and props, as well as for its inventive poses. In one well-known photograph from 1950, he placed a model in an empty glass phone booth; in another from 1951, he had her sit on a stool with her feet in a bucket of water. He also did away with traditional fashion magazine layouts, instead creating his own graceful arrangements of models and clothing that emphasized the grace and beauty of the clothes themselves.

Penn’s portraits are distinguished by their informality and intimacy. Many are close-ups or half-length shots that focus on the subject’s face; others show subjects engaged in everyday activities such as reading or smoking. His famous portraits include shots of people such as writer James Baldwin, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and musician Duke Ellington.

Penn’s still life photographs range from small arrangements of food or flowers to more complex compositions that incorporate found objects or commercial products. In one well-known image from 1967, he arranged cigarette butts on a white background; in another from 1971, he photographed a pair of shoes next to an open can of tuna fish.


Famed American fashion photographer Irving Penn passed away on October 7, 2009, at the age of 92. During his more than 60-year career, Penn gained international acclaim for his striking portraits and fashion photographs.

Penn began his career as a staff photographer for Vogue magazine in 1943. His first notable series of photos was a collection of portraits of famous people taken in the late 1940s. The series included everyone from scientists and politicians to actors and athletes.

In the 1950s, Penn began to focus more on fashion photography. He gained notoriety for his ability to capture the latest trends in clothing and accessories. His photos often featured models in unusual or unexpected settings, such as standing in front of billboards or sitting on fire escapes.

Penn continued to work until shortly before his death, producing some of his most memorable photos in the last few years of his life. In 2007, he published a book of never-before-seen photographs entitled Small Trades. The book was a collection of portraits of manual workers, such as umbrella makers and shoemakers, that Penn had taken over the course of several decades.

Throughout his career, Penn received numerous accolades for his work. In 1967, he was inducted into the National Academy of Design. His photos have been featured in museums all over the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Later Years and Death

In the early 2000s, Irving Penn’s work entered a new phase, as he began using digital photography. This change in medium did not affect his style; his portraits from this period are characterized by the same simple backgrounds, stark lighting, and exacting compositions that marked his earlier work. In 2005, Penn was the subject of a major retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, which traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He died in 2009 at the age of 92.


As one of the most important fashion photographers of the 20th century, Irving Penn’s legacy continues to influence photographers today. Born in 1917, Penn began his career as a photographer for Vogue magazine in the 1940s. His work is characterized by a focus on clean lines and simple compositions. Penn was also known for his use of light and shadow to create a sense of drama in his images.

Over the course of his career, Penn photographed some of the most famous faces in the world, including Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn. He also did groundbreaking work in advertising, creating iconic images for brands like L’Oreal and Schweppes.Penn died in 2009 at the age of 92, but his work continues to be celebrated by photographers and fashion lovers alike.

Famed fashion photographer Irving Penn passed away on October 7th, at the age of 92. While his work appeared in magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, he was also known for his portraits of celebrated personalities, such as Pablo Picasso and Marlene Dietrich. In this gallery, we remember some of Penn’s most iconic images.

Further Reading

Here are some links to articles and books for further reading on Irving Penn, one of the most famous American fashion photographers: –
A site dedicated to Penn’s books, including out-of-print and hard-to-find titles.

“Irving Penn: A career in Photography” –
An article from The Guardian about Penn’s retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

“Fashion Photography Now” –
A site that features Irving Penn as one of the most influential fashion photographers of all time.


-Famous American fashion photographer Irving Penn
-Worked for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and other publications
-Known for his elegant and stylized portraits, still lifes, and nudes

further Reading:

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