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Monthly Masters DiscussionMonthly Masters' Discussion: July 2017 - The Amazing Career of Irving Penn - "Rochas Mermaid Dress"

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minniev
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Monthly Masters' Discussion: July 2017 - The Amazing Career of Irving Penn - "Rochas Mermaid Dress"

Post by minniev » Sun Jul 02, 2017 3:56 am

Irving Penn’s seven decades of photographic work spans a dizzying array of genres: fashion, still life, portraiture, advertising, ethnographic studies, nudes and more. This month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is sponsoring the most comprehensive exhibit of his work ever attempted. In putting together this thread, I’ve seen it claimed that he “redefined beauty”, that he was the “quintessential Modernist photographer”. Though he was perhaps best known for his work at Vogue and his celebrity portraits, he also photographed poor people in the American south, New Guinea tribesmen, food, and the midsections of overweight nudes. It was difficult for me to wrap my own mind around his astounding and varied portfolio, and even more difficult to settle on one image to focus on.

For focused discussion, I selected “Rochas Mermaid Dress” a fashion image that features his wife Lisa, who has been described as the world’s first supermodel. The image has been said to represent a marked departure in fashion photography to include more elements of portraiture, a trend which eventually found its way into other kinds of commercial photography. Though I’ve chosen one image for focus, our Master’s discussions are intended to take us past the one image into deeper discussion, so please proceed in any direction you choose.

While discussing this work, you may want to browse through the works in the links provided below, and feel free to offer comments about other of his images, and link or upload one if you wish to attach it to your comments.

Here’s some questions to help guide our discussion:
1. What do you think of Rochas Mermaid Dress? Does the image have impact? How would you describe the composition? What do you think of the pose? Of the lighting? Of the backdrop? Do these components add to the impact or not?
2. Look through the series of Penn images on this page: , which includes Mermaid Dress. Over time and across genres, what are the commonalities across his works? The differences?
3. What do you think about the influence of portraiture on fashion and other commercial genres? Is fashion photography art? Is commercial and marketing photography art? Why or why not?
4. Prolific and respected Masters like Penn often have lasting influence even outside their genres. Do you see any influence of Penn’s styles in your own work? If so, what?

Some links to learn more about Irving Penn and his work:
The Met Centennial exhibit
wikipedia
Review of The Met exhibit
bio from New York Times
Chicago art institute collection
Time magazine special tribute
from the Smithsonian

Some links about analysis of Penn's work
An oral history
Modern Art Story

Some links about Penn's fashion photography and Mermaid Dress
Is fashion photography art?
About Mermaid Dress
Attachments
Rochas20Mermaid20Dress20Lisa20Fonssagrives-Penn.jpg
fair use http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/finch/irving-penn10-9-09.asp
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Post by PietFrancke » Mon Jul 03, 2017 3:50 pm

He used Photoshop type techniques and manipulation before the product/concept even existed - in Camera. In the Mermaid image, a backdrop gives us dramatic sky/fog/mood, a sense of distance and amazing edges/borders/frame. He creates unique stresses and angles to superimpose his concept on the model - the created poses (she stands as a mermaid swims) and forms are surreal. His images are dramatic and rich in tone.

The model is but a single component in his work. He selectively and in a minimalistic way adds additional components to make his images simple, clean, and unique. Each item in his environments is manipulated and treated to create an effect. He doesn't "find" his shot, he "builds" it.

While he uses a camera (with a master's control) to capture what he has put together, he has first placed each item and form exactly where he wants it. He didn't just see a composition, he created a composition.

I find it very interesting that Penn was trained as an artist, and perhaps because of this, was comfortable in his manipulations. He observed, saw what he saw, and then he manipulated it and looked again. His portraiture and fashion work in my mind was treated like a still life.

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Post by minniev » Mon Jul 03, 2017 7:53 pm

PietFrancke wrote:He used Photoshop type techniques and manipulation before the product/concept even existed - in Camera. In the Mermaid image, a backdrop gives us dramatic sky/fog/mood, a sense of distance and amazing edges/borders/frame. He creates unique stresses and angles to superimpose his concept on the model - the created poses (she stands as a mermaid swims) and forms are surreal. His images are dramatic and rich in tone.

The model is but a single component in his work. He selectively and in a minimalistic way adds additional components to make his images simple, clean, and unique. Each item in his environments is manipulated and treated to create an effect. He doesn't "find" his shot, he "builds" it.

While he uses a camera (with a master's control) to capture what he has put together, he has first placed each item and form exactly where he wants it. He didn't just see a composition, he created a composition.

I find it very interesting that Penn was trained as an artist, and perhaps because of this, was comfortable in his manipulations. He observed, saw what he saw, and then he manipulated it and looked again. His portraiture and fashion work in my mind was treated like a still life.


Thanks for being the first brave soul to jump into this complex Monthly Masters, Piet! You've made excellent points about the pose and the backdrop (made me think of the textures I sometimes use to make creative images) The business of creating the composition rather than seeing it struck me, too, and is probably why I have as much trouble as I do assessing his work. All my compositions are found rather than created, unless you count the fiddling I sometimes do with composites.
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by St3v3M » Mon Jul 03, 2017 8:08 pm

While it seems most people take an image and then find the story to tell it feels as if Irving Penn knew the story he wanted and made the image to match. I'm not sure we'll ever know if it was that he was an artist first then a photographer, or that he had a story he needed to tell and used the camera to tell it, but whatever it was that drove him he changed the way we look at images and at fashion. Then there are the cigarette butts and you have to wonder if there was more to his stories than fashion. I especially like the cracked egg. It's an amazing collection of work, and I can only wish I was able to see it live at The Met. Oh what fun to have that much creativity!

This is something I want to come back to and look at again. I hope you all do the same! And thank you, Minnie, for helping us get here! S-
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Post by minniev » Mon Jul 03, 2017 9:19 pm

St3v3M wrote:While it seems most people take an image and then find the story to tell it feels as if Irving Penn knew the story he wanted and made the image to match. I'm not sure we'll ever know if it was that he was an artist first then a photographer, or that he had a story he needed to tell and used the camera to tell it, but whatever it was that drove him he changed the way we look at images and at fashion. Then there are the cigarette butts and you have to wonder if there was more to his stories than fashion. I especially like the cracked egg. It's an amazing collection of work, and I can only wish I was able to see it live at The Met. Oh what fun to have that much creativity!

This is something I want to come back to and look at again. I hope you all do the same! And thank you, Minnie, for helping us get here! S-


And thank you for weighing in. I was confounded by the cigarette butts too, as well as the rather unusual nudes he did. He seemed to favor photographing women who had bodies like those old prehistoric fertility goddess figures. The range of his subjects amazed me.
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Post by Psjunkie » Tue Jul 04, 2017 3:03 am

I think Piet has said more than I could have thought of so will leave it there...

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Post by minniev » Tue Jul 04, 2017 11:17 pm

Psjunkie wrote:I think Piet has said more than I could have thought of so will leave it there...


Aw c'mon Frank, tell me something more! :D
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Post by ErichBrunner » Fri Jul 07, 2017 10:44 am

PietFrancke wrote:He used Photoshop type techniques and manipulation before the product/concept even existed - in Camera. In the Mermaid image, a backdrop gives us dramatic sky/fog/mood, a sense of distance and amazing edges/borders/frame. He creates unique stresses and angles to superimpose his concept on the model - the created poses (she stands as a mermaid swims) and forms are surreal. His images are dramatic and rich in tone.

The model is but a single component in his work. He selectively and in a minimalistic way adds additional components to make his images simple, clean, and unique. Each item in his environments is manipulated and treated to create an effect. He doesn't "find" his shot, he "builds" it.

While he uses a camera (with a master's control) to capture what he has put together, he has first placed each item and form exactly where he wants it. He didn't just see a composition, he created a composition.

I find it very interesting that Penn was trained as an artist, and perhaps because of this, was comfortable in his manipulations. He observed, saw what he saw, and then he manipulated it and looked again. His portraiture and fashion work in my mind was treated like a still life.


I was lucky enough to be able to visit the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here are my impressions of the exhibit.

The exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum had over 200 photographs on display in several rooms and arranged roughly according to theme. Portraits, fashion, nudes, cigarettes, still life photographs. My first impression was that you can make the argument that many photographers do make, stating that photographs need to be prints! It was so nice to be able to walk right up to the print and marvel at the details in those prints. Penn seems to be obsessed with tack sharp photos. Every print I saw with the exception of 5 (four of these were the same woman drinking wine and purposely out of focus.) Each print was exposed differently and they were arranged next to one another so that you could really see how exposure can change the very nature of the photograph. I thought that part of the exhibit was really interesting. But other than those exceptions, all the photos displayed were tack sharp. They also had the Rolleiflex that he modified with a Hasselblad hood over the focusing screen. He used this camera for over four decades. You can tell that most of the photos were taken with that camera because the prints are all square indicating the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch size of the negatives. ( it made me happy to be doing street photos with my Yashica TLR which is the baby brother of the Rollei.)

The Rochas Mermaid dress photo was displayed next to four other portraits of his wife that are high fashion photos. Each one was spectacular; but Rochas Mermaid is, I think, the star. There is something about the way she is looking up a bit and has a very aloof expression that makes this photo special. I also like the way he uses his background (the actual screen he used was on display which I thought was pretty cool). I had to take a picture of it. He makes no bones about the fact that it is a fabric screen and he actually shows the edges so that the screen becomes part of the composition not just a background. Very unique of him to do this and I think it makes the photos more effective.

Many of his portraits were assignments by Vogue. He was a young photographer on assignment by Vogue to photograph many famous and quite intimidating subjects. Most of these portraits like Duchamp, Truman Capote Alfred Hitchcock and Joe Lewis were taken with the subject backed up into a corner. He did this so that he would be able to control their movements more precisely. He used two stage props that formed an angle to restrict what the subjects could do. This technique became a quasi signature of Penn's portraits and years later, after he was well established as a photographer, he still used the technique.

There was an entire room of cigarette butts presented in "achingly beautiful" prints for such mundane subjects. Tack sharp and loaded with detail, these photos are mesmerizing. All in all, it was wonderful to be able to spend lots of time with so many of Penn's photographs. You really got a sense of what he was all about. Having the screen he used as a background and the actual camera on display as well was icing on the cake.

Years ago I visited the Louvre and they had five oil paintings By Leonardo da Vinci on display right next to each other. One of these was, of course, the Mona Lisa. (Today Mona Lisa is in a separate room and the other four paintings do not even share the same room let alone the same wall). I knew that the Mona Lisa was the famous one that I was supposed to be most impressed with. I found that I was impressed equally with all of the paintings. The Mona Lisa is superb, of course; but so are the other four. I felt the same way about the Rochas Mermaid Dress. It is, of course, a fabulous photograph; but the four other photographs of his wife are also magnificent. It was great to be able see them all right next to each other. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to see the photos in person.
erich

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Post by minniev » Fri Jul 07, 2017 12:18 pm

ErichBrunner wrote:
PietFrancke wrote:He used Photoshop type techniques and manipulation before the product/concept even existed - in Camera. In the Mermaid image, a backdrop gives us dramatic sky/fog/mood, a sense of distance and amazing edges/borders/frame. He creates unique stresses and angles to superimpose his concept on the model - the created poses (she stands as a mermaid swims) and forms are surreal. His images are dramatic and rich in tone.

The model is but a single component in his work. He selectively and in a minimalistic way adds additional components to make his images simple, clean, and unique. Each item in his environments is manipulated and treated to create an effect. He doesn't "find" his shot, he "builds" it.

While he uses a camera (with a master's control) to capture what he has put together, he has first placed each item and form exactly where he wants it. He didn't just see a composition, he created a composition.

I find it very interesting that Penn was trained as an artist, and perhaps because of this, was comfortable in his manipulations. He observed, saw what he saw, and then he manipulated it and looked again. His portraiture and fashion work in my mind was treated like a still life.


I was lucky enough to be able to visit the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here are my impressions of the exhibit.

The exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum had over 200 photographs on display in several rooms and arranged roughly according to theme. Portraits, fashion, nudes, cigarettes, still life photographs. My first impression was that you can make the argument that many photographers do make, stating that photographs need to be prints! It was so nice to be able to walk right up to the print and marvel at the details in those prints. Penn seems to be obsessed with tack sharp photos. Every print I saw with the exception of 5 (four of these were the same woman drinking wine and purposely out of focus.) Each print was exposed differently and they were arranged next to one another so that you could really see how exposure can change the very nature of the photograph. I thought that part of the exhibit was really interesting. But other than those exceptions, all the photos displayed were tack sharp. They also had the Rolleiflex that he modified with a Hasselblad hood over the focusing screen. He used this camera for over four decades. You can tell that most of the photos were taken with that camera because the prints are all square indicating the 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch size of the negatives. ( it made me happy to be doing street photos with my Yashica TLR which is the baby brother of the Rollei.)

The Rochas Mermaid dress photo was displayed next to four other portraits of his wife that are high fashion photos. Each one was spectacular; but Rochas Mermaid is, I think, the star. There is something about the way she is looking up a bit and has a very aloof expression that makes this photo special. I also like the way he uses his background (the actual screen he used was on display which I thought was pretty cool). I had to take a picture of it. He makes no bones about the fact that it is a fabric screen and he actually shows the edges so that the screen becomes part of the composition not just a background. Very unique of him to do this and I think it makes the photos more effective.

Many of his portraits were assignments by Vogue. He was a young photographer on assignment by Vogue to photograph many famous and quite intimidating subjects. Most of these portraits like Duchamp, Truman Capote Alfred Hitchcock and Joe Lewis were taken with the subject backed up into a corner. He did this so that he would be able to control their movements more precisely. He used two stage props that formed an angle to restrict what the subjects could do. This technique became a quasi signature of Penn's portraits and years later, after he was well established as a photographer, he still used the technique.

There was an entire room of cigarette butts presented in "achingly beautiful" prints for such mundane subjects. Tack sharp and loaded with detail, these photos are mesmerizing. All in all, it was wonderful to be able to spend lots of time with so many of Penn's photographs. You really got a sense of what he was all about. Having the screen he used as a background and the actual camera on display as well was icing on the cake.

Years ago I visited the Louvre and they had five oil paintings By Leonardo da Vinci on display right next to each other. One of these was, of course, the Mona Lisa. (Today Mona Lisa is in a separate room and the other four paintings do not even share the same room let alone the same wall). I knew that the Mona Lisa was the famous one that I was supposed to be most impressed with. I found that I was impressed equally with all of the paintings. The Mona Lisa is superb, of course; but so are the other four. I felt the same way about the Rochas Mermaid Dress. It is, of course, a fabulous photograph; but the four other photographs of his wife are also magnificent. It was great to be able see them all right next to each other. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to see the photos in person.
erich


Thank you Erich. You've given us a wonderful in-person review that takes this discussion to a whole new level. What you describe is the reason I had such a hard time choosing an image to focus on. The different genres, photos of the famous and photos of the trash, all have exquisite detail and amazing management of tone.

Thank you for taking us with you on this tour and sharing your impressions. You made it real for us!
"God gave me photography so that I could pray with my eyes" - Dewitt Jones

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Post by St3v3M » Sat Jul 08, 2017 2:07 am

ErichBrunner wrote:... It was great to be able see them all right next to each other. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to see the photos in person.
erich

Wow, what a wonderful experience, you are blessed to have seen these in person, and thank you for the wonderful insight into museum life! S-
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