Thursday, April 04, 2024

Irving Penn Retrospective at the deYoung

A huge retrospective of the work of photographer Irving Penn (1917-2009) has opened at the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park, and will stay there through July.
Penn's career took off under the mentorship of Alexander Liberman, the art director of Vogue magazine from 1941 to 1962, where Penn was hired as an associate graphic artist until Liberman suggested he try photography.
After a stint with the American Field Service in Europe during World War Two, he returned to New York where he captured cultural celebrities and fashion models for Vogue. Pictured is the 1948 Ballet Society, featuring George Balanchine, Corrado Cagli, Tanaquil Le Clercq, and Vittorio Rieti.
The magazine sent Penn to France for the Paris Haute Couture Week but he didn't care for the mad jockeying involved in the live runway shows, so he arranged for an empty attic studio with great light to photograph the clothing on his own models. Pictured is Balenciaga Mantle Coat (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), Paris, 1950.
One of those models was the Swedish Lisa Fonssagrives, who Penn married in 1950. She is pictured above in Woman with Roses (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in Lafaurie Dress), Paris, 1950.
He also played around with a series of abstract female nudes that look like photographic attempts at Henry Moore sculptures, but they don't quite work. Pictured is Nude No. 18, New York, 1949-1950.
In 1948 he want on assignment to Cuzco, Peru, where he rented the local photographer's studio and took portraits of Indian peasants with the same gray/white backgrounds as his fashion models. Pictured is Cuzco Children. This was the first of a series of ethnographic photo essays he created over the decades that haven't aged well. The formal distancing of exotic others comes off as slightly grotesque.
In this exhibit, there is an amusing selection of San Francisco Hippie photos from 1967, which Penn did on assignment from Look magazine, including Hell's Angel (Doug), San Francisco.
His true genius lay in creating iconographic images of cultural artists, such as the young Audrey Hepburn, Paris, 1951...
...and the old Colette, Paris, 1951...
...and a dappter Jean Cocteau, Paris, 1948.
He continued working over the decades with his own advertising studio, while continuing to capture artists, such as a zaftig Alvin Ailey, New York, 1971...
...and the quartet pictured above: Issey Miyake, New York, 1988; Richard Avedon, New York, 1978; S.J. Perelman, New York, 1962; and Gianni Versace, New York, 1987.

1 comment:

Elsa said...

thanks for the review. going tomorrow. then, if no rain, off to see the tulips.