10 days in Paris. 10 days. 10 days of shopping, of course, but I cannot go to Paris without being cultivated. That’s why when I go to there, I always have a looong program of exhibitions, shows, plays… And the first exhibition I saw this week was taking place at the Grand Palais, where were presented Irving Penn‘s photographs.
This exhibition made me discover his work as I didn’t know the artist before. And it surprised me a lot. In a good way, that’s obvious.
At first, it made me think of Helmut Newton, you know this type of pictures of women, naked or not, fashion photos, for famous magazines… I found his work quite similar to the other photographers of his era. I told myself : « okay, he’s a good photographer, but he hasn’t invented anything« , you know ?
But then, and that’s what made me like his work I think, I changed my mind when I discovered it was way larger than that.
Indeed, Irving Penn did take fashion pictures for Vogue (he actually is the photographer who did the most covers for Vogue), and he did take nudes. But not only : he also took pictures of still-lives (flowers, cigarette ends, things he found in the street), he took pictures of celebrities (Picasso, Cocteau, Saint Laurent…), or foreign tribes and their traditions, he took portraits, pictures of different people, and each one was representing a specific job (a baker, a tailor…)…
And not only he chose varied subjects for his photos, varied themes, but he also chose varied places. For example, from 1967 to 1971, he went to Africa and Asia (for Vogue) and shot portraits of the inhabitants, but with only a tent by way of a studio !
He plays with the decors, creating original and funny sets that create a special and wacky atmosphere, like for example this series of pics of people in a narrow and angular room, like if they were locked up in a box.
But what’s surprising is that each series of photographs represents a « period » of his life, and work.
And the Grand Palais represented perfectly the evolution of his work by separating the periods by dedicating each one to a room, in the chronological order (one room was dedicated to the first « Still-Lives » he did, the other to the « Cigarettes« , another one to « The Nudes« … . That way it felt like a trip throughout the artist’s life, and work.
I enjoyed discovering Irving Penn‘s work, and I think the way the exhibition was arranged was very clear and playful, and that’s probably what made me understand, and, consequently, like his work.
So, obviously, I strongly recommend this exhibition to anyone who doesn’t know Irving Penn, but also to the ones who wish to re-discover his work, or to understand better the chronology and the aim of it.