Glamour, Reinvented

Jessica Backus
Mar 28, 2013 2:03PM

John Szarkowski, Director of Photography at New York's Museum of Modern Art from 1962-1991, on Irving Penn:

"Penn has been professionally part of the world of fashion for more than half a century, by which time one might say that it is part of his quotidian life. I would not say that he “goes against” glamour, but that he continually reinvents it. Glamour and familiarity are incompatible; glamour requires some element of strangeness or mystery, or even of danger, which is why ball masks and fans are glamorous. (I think a great man might in fact be a hero to his valet, but he could not be glamorous.) Penn introduced a new strangeness to glamour even in the character of his drawings–of the nervous, ambiguous quality of his line, which is often broken and angular where one would expect it to be smooth and languid. One would hardly have thought that a cigarette butt could be glamorous, but Penn’s are positively regal. Penn also introduced an unfamiliar hint of decadence into fashion photography, but he did it in a subtle, sophisticated way, with untraceable poison in an eyedropper, not with a battle-ax."


Jessica Backus