Fashion and celebrity photographer Irving Penn died Wednesday in his Manhattan home at the age of 92, according to his photo assistant Roger Krueger. He is remembered for creating striking, minimalistic images and for adopting a craftsman-like approach to his work.
Landing his first photography job at Vogue magazine in 1940, he developed an austere visual style. Preferring to photograph people in a bare studio rather than in a special, elaborate setting, he stripped the image down to the essentials, bringing the focus back to his subject and to the clothes they modeled.
“Many photographers feel their client is the subject,” he told the New York Times in 1991. “My client is a woman in Kansas who reads Vogue. I’m trying to intrigue, stimulate, feed her….The severe portrait that is not the greatest joy in the world to the subject may be enormously interesting to the reader.” Penn had the longest career of any Conde Nast photographer.
In addition to fashion photography, Penn also enjoyed shooting still lifes (his first Vogue cover showed an assemblage of scarf, gloves and purse), as well as portraits. He photographed Hollywood celebrities (Grace Kelly, Spencer Tracy), artists (Georgia O’Keefe, Marcel Duchamp), and writers (Simone DeBouvier, Truman Capote), as well as many non-celebrities he met in New York, London, New Guinea and Peru.
Among his favorite subjects was his wife Lisa Fonssagrives, a fashion model. They married in 1950, and she later became a sculptor before passing away in 1992. Penn is survived by their son Tom and by Mia, his daughter from another marriage, nine grandchildren, as well as his famous filmmaker brother Arthur, who directed “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Penn was born in Plainfield, N.J., in 1917. He studied drawing, painting and design at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art, now known as the University of the Arts, before jumping into photography when he arrived in New York.