How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve never even met? Nonetheless Irving Penn, or “Mr Penn” as he was referred to with reverent tones in the corridors of Condè Nast, feels like someone you’ve known forever.
We discovered him over the years while leafing through the glossy pages of Vogue, where he was photographer for more than sixty years, and we loved his aesthetics of “less is more” which taught us that the more you take away from the image, the more it proves to be effective and evocative.
A suggestion, we think, that works in photography just as it does in real life.
And perhaps he thought so too. Irving Penn was a cover man, who never actually appeared on the cover. Nor in interviews or on public occasions, in which his reserved nature prevented him from taking part.
We say was, sadly, because “Mr Penn” passed away just a few days ago, on the 7 October, at his apartment in Manhattan, at 92 years of age. A good age, certainly. But his photos, always abstract from the space that surrounded them, seemed eternal and we almost believed that he was too.
So our goodbyes go to him, as do our thanks for the splendid images that he gave us, for his ability to portray, with the same unbroken poetry, the legs of a frog and those of a ballerina, or the knife-grinder of Paris.
We will always remember him for having taken a handbag, melting like an ice-cream, some gloves bedecked with rings and a drawing of some citrus fruit and putting them together to create the very first still life cover in the history of Vogue. We will remember him thanks to the sophisticated beauty of Lisa Fonssagrives, his model and wife for 42 years.
But, above all we will remember him for having revealed the world of fashion to us with the simplicity of his shots, despite there being nothing simple about it. And perhaps, considering that it is with his photos that he introduced himself to us, the best way to say goodbye to him is, once more, sharing with you the two first photos that come to mind to us.
The one of its portrait by one of its pupils, and the second one about the first cover he has realised for Vogue.
Bye bye, Mr Penn!