The exceptional photographer Irving Penn would have celebrated his 100th birthday this year. The C/O Berlin Foundation shows the breadth of his work with a large retrospective with 240 exhibits. Last weekend I really enjoyed the exhibition during a visit to Berlin.
Irving Penn (1917-2009) graduated in design at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art and then worked as a photographer. In 1943 he shot his first cover picture and later many more for the magazine Vogue. In 1953 he founded his own photography studio in New York and portrayed, among other things, numerous personalities from film, music, and art. He also made a name for himself in fashion photography and with portraits of foreign triebes, e.g. in Papua New Guinea and Benin. Rather unusual topic for people photographers are still lifes and macro shots, which Penn are also represented in his exhibition.
With a few exceptions, Penn dedicated his work to black and white photography that gives his portraits a distinctive character. He mostly took fashion and portraits against a neutral background, thus focusing on the person without distraction and lending the pictures (intentionally or unintentionally) timelessness. Especially the portraits are very individual character studies, which partly draw the viewer into the spell, because one has the impression to discover again and again new facets of the personality of the person portrayed. In his early full-body portraits of well-known artists, he sometimes placed the characters inside of sharp angled walls built in the studio and allowed the people to stand or sit like they wanted, that they used in very different ways, thereby revealing something of themselves. His work was already highly praised during his lifetime and exhibited in renowned museums. Penn died in 2009 in New York.
For the exhibition from March to June 2018: Irving Penn Centennial. America house. Hardenbergstrasse 22-24. 10623 Berlin, www.co-berlin.org
See also my article about the current Exhibition from Vincent Peters in Berlin.