Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Irving Penn

Irving Penn died today at the age of 92. It is always sad to see the legends go. This particular legend is even more sad on a personal level because he is one I actually got to meet and spend some time with.

I applied to intern with him back in 2001. The interview was a nerve wracking experience that left some of my friends who also applied in a speechless stupor. You could tell he was just boring into your soul to get to know you and what you were made of. I was fortunate enough to be one of only two applicants who were invited back to spend a full day working in the studio. I had a long one-on-one portfolio critique of my Ririe portfolio which was very enlightening (I sent him a copy of the book later to which he sent back a nice little thank you card.)

I also got to spend about three hours in his storage facility where he kept his archive of images. I was able to go through and look at any image I wanted with no supervision. My sad memory was how they had me shred negatives from the New Guinea Mud Men project as one of my jobs. I guess it was a test to see if I was willing to do whatever was asked, even if that included destroying images of a living master. My favorite memory of him was how he touched up his own images. (He had someone to print them for him.) Mr. Penn would sit over by the window in the soft light with this helmet contraption with magnifiers that looks like the device used in Toy Story 2 by the old guy that fixed toys, slowly and methodically touching up anything in the images.

Mr. Penn's studio is run kind of like a church. I walked up to knock on this old door and see a small little Conde Nast label on the door and almost froze realizing that I was about to walk where few got to go. There is never music playing. It is quiet and respectful all of the time. You referred to him as Mr. Penn not as Irving. It felt like a photographic shrine.

Irving Penn will be a missed figure in the photographic world. Here are a couple of his images.

June 16, 1917 - October 7, 2009

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