Obituary: Irving Penn

Irving Penn, one of the twentieth century’s most influential and revered fashion photographers, died this morning at the age of 92. His subjects ranged from Pablo Picasso to Kate Moss, couture gowns to discarded cigarette butts—all imbued with his signature elegance and austerity. The work Penn did for Vogue, in the 1940s and 50s—much of it with his wife, the supremely sophisticated model Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn—changed the very nature of fashion photography. Strictly, almost abstractly minimalist, the images were, Anthony Lane of the New Yorker wrote, “the most beautiful pictures ever made of the most beautiful clothes ever sewn.” The word “icon” is overused, but Penn was the real thing, a perfectionist whose grasp of the moment and impeccable sense of composition convey not just the loveliness of the clothes he was photographing, but their cultural context. It’s no wonder that everyone who worked with him, even his boss at Vogue, the imperious Alexander Lieberman, called him Mr. Penn.

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