Irving Penn was the son of a Jewish watchmaker and the older brother of the director Arthur Penn. He grew up in Plainfield (New Jersey) and in Philadelphia.
Penn was trained as a designer. Since the 1940s he photographed for Vogue a.o. and was heavily influenced by the style of fashion photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Many of the most famous Vogue images came from his camera. In addition to his fashion photos, his portraits became world famous. Many know his portrait of Pablo Picasso in hat and coat collar from the year 1957, from which Picasso looks at the viewer with a penetrating eye, or the image of the hand of jazz giant Miles Davis. Other famous portraits featured artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O'Keeffe, Igor Stravinsky or Spencer Tracy.
In 1991 Penn was awarded the Prix Nadar for the book En passant. The Irving Penn Collection is housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, which in 1997 organized the traveling exhibition Irving Penn, A Career in Photography. The exhibition was also shown in 1998 in the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg and in the Munich City Museum.
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