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An unassuming studio set-up that painted its guests into a corner.

It was perhaps to poke fun at the enigma of fame, and certainly to disrupt it, that photographer Irving Penn would place his most famous subjects in a narrow corner to have their portraits taken. The prop was simple in its contrivance, just two studio flats arranged at a sharply acute angle, but it sufficed to recast his famous subjects in a less complacent light. There they would stay, these celebrated men and women, until they showed us something new.

Many believe that Penn, along with his rival, Richard Avedon, elevated fashion photography to the status of fine art in the public eye. But Penn himself remained worried about the distinction. He threw himself into private work whenever he could—still lifes, anthropological photography (he would haul a portable studio into the field), the famous midsection nudes. Anything to prove that he wasn’t limited to the Apollonian perfection of his corporate and magazine work.

  • Words:
    Asher Ross
  • Photography:
    © The Irving Penn Foundation

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  • Words:
    Asher Ross
  • Photography:
    © The Irving Penn Foundation
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