Irving Penn: Centennial on View at the Met

I can get obsessed by anything if I look at it long enough. That’s the curse of being a photographer.Irving Penn

 This quote from Irving Penn best summarizes what his work essentially means. A great photograph can amaze you and make you happy, sad, angry, or leave you with any kind of emotion, but what an Irving Penn photograph does is that it makes you get lost in it. As you stare at the magnificently captured portrait of a person, you too become obsessed by their character, their flaws and perfections, their pose and angle, captured in that single moment of time to last for an eternity. Now, when you manage to achieve that level of emotion and depth with imagery of still life, then there’s probably no one else who can do it like the legendary Irving Penn. The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates the centennial of the artist’s birth with an extraordinary retrospective simply titled Irving Penn: Centennial.

Irving Penn (1917–2009) was best known for his unique combination of elegance and simplicity in photography which gave us some of the most recognizable works to date. Working as a fashion photographer for Vogue, Penn was able to capture iconic figures such as Salvador Dali, Grace Kelly, Pablo Picasso, Al Pacino, Audrey Hepburn and many others. During his more than six decades long influential career, Irving Penn established new standards in photography and set the bar high for the future generations to follow. Whether portraits of fashion icons and celebrities, or exquisite images of still life, Penn’s photographs were simplistic and flawless, formal brilliance. His keen sensitivity for light, background, graphic vision and artistic perception could not be replicated by anyone else.

The Centennial exhibition focuses on the series of street signs, the American Youth, Mexico, iconic portraits of cultural figures, and features many of the classic photographs created with Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, the artist’s wife. On show are also the mesmerizing portraits of urban laborers, citizens of New Guinea, Morocco; sensual nudes; iconic still lifes; the amazing color studies of flowers, and many, many more. This major retrospective follows the artist’s journey through the cultural changes in fashion, through his creative career and life itself. The exhibition shows the growth of photography and its development as a fine art in the 1970s and 1980s, reflecting on some of the most influential works by the legendary Irving Penn.

How did Penn manage to create such intricate, yet simple and striking imagery using nothing but an old theatre curtain as a backdrop? What gave such depth and character to his black and white photographs which made an indelible mark on the world of art? Irving Penn: Centennial brings the audience closer to these questions and offers an honest insight into the life and work of one of the greatest people ever to stand behind the camera. The show runs from April 24–July 30, 2017 at The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 199.


Irving Penn


April 24–July 30, 2017


Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10028

Phone: 212-535-7710

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