Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen the work of Irving Penn. In his six-decade career as one of the world’s preeminent fashion, portrait, and still life photographers, Penn reigned as king in a world he helped create, and his wife—the world’s first (and favorite) fashion model, Lisa Fonssagrives—was his queen. Penn produced covers for Vogue magazine more than 150 times, captured minimalist portraits of sitters from Pablo Picasso to Truman Capote, and produced classic-yet-unusual still lifes. In every genre he touched, he was revolutionary. Penn’s stark fashion photographs emphasized line and silhouette, turning commercial photography into art, and it seems he could do so with any subject. “He made an ashtray full of cigarette butts, of trash sitting on the street ... appear as elegant as a Parisian fashion model,” Alison Nordstöm, Curator-at-Large at the George Eastman House photography museum, once said.
In a new exhibition at Pace/MacGill Gallery, “Irving Penn: On Assignment,” Penn’s 60 years spent on the job are displayed in photographs, magazines, and ephemera that portray the breadth and depth of his legacy. Images taken while working on assignment for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Look are shown among advertising campaigns for Clinique and De Beers, and notably, the iconic image of jazz legend Miles Davis’ left hand, commissioned for the cover of his 1986 album, “Tutu”.
“Irving Penn: On Assignment” on is on view at Pace/MacGill Gallery from September 13th through October 26th, 2013.