From the NYT:
“Irving Penn, one of the 20th century's most prolific and influential photographers of fashion and the famous, whose signature blend of classical elegance and cool minimalism was recognizable to magazine readers and museumgoers worldwide, died Wednesday morning at his home in Manhattan. He was 92.”
In 1980 I became a serious student of photography, and more importantly, one who studied those who made important photographs. With little direction except from Steve Harper, my mentor, friend and eventually my boss, I studied the photographs and techniques of those whose photographs I liked.
I liked Penn’s work, although I was never particularly interested in portraiture until I started working for the Wichita Eagle in 1981. I learned that a high percentage of what we put in the newspaper are portraits.
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I figured if I was getting paid to shoot portraits — business execs, jocks, authors, cooks, crooks, artists, educators, the uneducated and thousands of otherwise non-famous people given their fifteen minutes of fame in my newspaper — I wanted those pictures to be more than mug shots. So I took a more serious look at the masters.
Irving Penn was one.
Penn was more than a portrait photographer, of course. But he was a master of the controlled environment.
After 30 years I have only begun to appreciate that aspect of the craft.