Irving Penn’s Lesser-Known Obsession with Skulls

An exquisite edifice of living machine. Hard chambers of bone to guard soft organs, protected conduits and channels.”— The Late Irving Penn, from the 1989 exhibition catalogue of “Cranium Architecture”.

In a not-so-new exhibition at Hamiltons Gallery, London—the work debuted in January of ’89—Irving Penn’s “Cranium Architecture” studies the skulls of animals from the giraffe to the hippopotamus in a visual raid of the inventory at the Narodni National Museum in Prague. Other pieces include the camel, the spotted hyena, the boar, the brown bear; and though these subjects are not quite pulled from the pages of Vogue (like his better known work), the skulls represent an important chapter in the renegade photographer’s oeuvre. “I can get obsessed by anything if I look at it long enough,” he said. “That’s the curse of being a photographer.”

“Cranium Architecture is on view at Hamiltons Gallery, London, through September 2013.”