born 16 June 1917
Irving Penn studied under Alexey Brodovitch at the Philadelphia Museum School from which he graduated 1938. Penn’s drawings were published by Harper’s Bazaar and he also painted. As his career in photography blossomed, he became known for post World War II feminine chic and glamour photography.
Penn has worked for many years doing fashion photography for Vogue magazine. He was among the first photographers to pose subjects against a simple grey or white backdrop and used this simplicity more effectively than other photographers. Expanding his austere studio surroundings, Penn constructed a set of upright angled backdrops, to form a stark, acute corner. Posing his subjects within this tight, unorthodox space, Penn brought an unprecedented sense of drama to his portraits, driving the viewer’s focus onto the person and their expression. In many photos, the subjects appeared wedged into the corner. Subjects photographed with this technique included Martha Graham, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keeffe, W. H. Auden, Igor Stravinsky and Marlene Dietrich.
While a master of the studio flash, most of Penn’s portraits are lighted with window light. For travelling to New Guinea and other locations to photograph indigenous people, Penn created a portable studio with a skylight deployed facing north with impressive results. These pictures had the same feel as his portraits of celebrities; fully adorned, naturally lighted, yet placed before the neutral backdrop, his tribal subjects appear as strangely defined models for a 19th-century ethnographic investigation.
In 1950, Penn married his favorite model, Lisa Fonssagrives and he founded his studio in 1953. They had one son together, who is named Tom.
Clarity, composition, careful arrangement of objects or people, form, and the use of light characterize Penn’s work. Penn also photographs still life objects and found objects in unusual arrangements with great detail and clarity.
While his prints are always clean and clear, Penn’s subjects vary widely. Many times his photographs are so ahead of their time that they only came to be appreciated as important works in the modernist canon years after their creation. For example, a series of posed nudes whose physical shapes range from thin to plump were shot in 1949-1950, but were not exhibited until 1980.
His still life compositions are skillfully arranged assemblages of food or objects; at once spare and highly organized, the objects are raised to a graphic perfection, articulating the abstract interplay of line and volume.
“Photographing a cake can be art” —Irving Penn.
The Ginger and I made some painfully tasty cupcakes last night. Devil’s Food with marshmallow frosting from scratch. The Ginger is an amazing cook and actually did most the work. I just took photos most the time. Here’s a GIF of our creation (click through if it doesn’t work for you).
Poached Pears in Raspberry Sauce
4 Bosc pears
1 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup apple juice
1 1/2 tsp. orange liqueur
sweetener to taste (I used 3 tbsp. agave nectar)
Peel the pears and trim the bottoms to that they (maybe) stand upright. Put them in a microwave-safe casserole dish, drizzle them with the maple syrup and sprinkle them with cinnamon. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Cook on high power until they are tender, but not mushy, about 8-10 minutes. When they’re done, lift them out of the dish and place them on serving plates. Reserve any of their juices to add to the raspberry sauce.
If the raspberries are frozen, heat them in a saucepan until they’re thawed. Then put the raspberries and orange juice in a blender, and add any juices from the pears. Puree until completely blended. Set a strainer over the saucepan, and pour the raspberry mixture through it, stirring and pressing on it to force the juices into the pan while removing the seeds. Add the orange liqueur and sweetener to taste. Heat, stirring, until mixture thickens slightly, about 5-10 minutes.
Serve the pear on a dessert plate or bowl surrounded by raspberry sauce. Garnish, if you wish, with extra raspberries.
One pear per serving: 192 Calories (kcal); 1 g Total Fat; (4% calories from fat); 1 g Protein; 48 g Carbohydrate; 0 mg Cholesterol; 1 mg Sodium; 8 g Fiber.
Wouldn’t say no to this!