Irving Penn

Sad about the news that Irving Penn has died. I heard about it earlier today and mentioned it to several colleagues at work who responded with blank stares and uncomprehending looks. I was fortunate to know and work for Irving Penn—Mr. Penn as he was always known to us. His studio was above Broadway in the photo district of Manhattan. Unlike most studios the photography area was relatively small and the office area was large and spacious. It was also unusual for being absolutely silent—there was never any radio, TV or music of any kind. He kept meticulous records about everything. I half suspect he could have told you the current whereabouts of any print he ever made.

He kept 1 oz. bars of Platinum and Palladium in a safe. They were a hedge against the wild fluctuations in price for those metals which he used to create his trademark 20×24 inch platinum/palladium prints. When he needed more he would take a bar down the chemist and have it transformed into the metallic salt needed for printing.

I used to work in his darkroom doing B&W printing and making the large format negatives for platinum. One day he saw a print I was working on that showed a large thumbprint on the negative. I saw him frown and I immediately knew what he was thinking. He chided me for being careless and asked if I had tried to clean the thumbprint off the neg. I said that I had seen the thumbprint and had tried gently cleaning it but thought it would be less dangerous to retouch the print as the thumbprint on the negative was probably older than I was. He looked at the neg and sure enough there was a very old and yellowed stain on the negative. Based on the date of the photoshoot I suspect the thumbprint was at least a decade older than I was! It was one thing to be printing my own photos from last week but quite another to be working with Mr. Penn’s iconic images that spanned many decades. His famous photograph of the Cuzco Children of 1948 has frozen them forever as adorable children even though they may now have great-grandchildren of their own.

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~ by severalfourmany on October 8, 2009.

One Response to “Irving Penn”

  1. A very nice Topic. Thanks alot hope you go for the detail next time!

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