A new exhibition in Venice celebrates the astounding – and varied – career of American photographer IRVING PENN
WHEN IRVING PENN is mentioned, most photography buffs think of his celebrity portraits: the way he captured Audrey Hepburn’s cheeky expression, his shot of the exhausted author Truman Capote and his famed photo of a nude Kate Moss are three examples that spring to mind.
However, without wanting to belittle his innovative and prolific work for fashion magazines, Penn had a life – and a career – outside of Vogue, as an exhibition called Irving Penn, Resonance, held at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice, demonstrates.
Resonance reveals that alongside his fashion work Penn was also a quietly successful ethnographic photographer who believed in the importance of documenting other cultures. During his career he travelled as far afield as Peru and New Guinea, where he photographed his subjects in a canvas tent – a far cry from his studio in New York.
Penn also worked steadily as a still-life photographer, shooting objects as varied as animal skulls, fruit and cigarette ends, among others. Whatever the image, a plain background is the key component of his photographs, as it allows his subject – whether it’s a lion’s skull, a Peruvian child or the reclining Moss – to take centre stage. As Penn’s style was so egalitarian, it feels fitting that these varied prints are finally being exhibited alongside each other to reveal the many sides of his eclectic and fascinating career.
Irving Penn, Resonance is at the Palazzo Grassi in Venice until December 31.