The Irving Penn exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a very bold exhibit. The images were simplistic and minimal but left a strong impression on me. I took some time with each image and tried to understand the purpose of such a simple black and white image. It left me thinking about the emotions that were being evoked by the objects in the images, for instance, there was an image of an old man posing in a corner holding his chin. He had a small grin and it made me wonder what he was thinking about and why he felt the need to feel enclosed in the corner of the room.
I believe Irving Penn created this exhibit as an interpretive experience. Everyone will have different emotions when viewing these images and will interpret the images differently as well. I believe the biggest takeaway from this exhibit was that simple is bold. Sometimes focusing on one thing can lead to be a bigger impact than having arbitrary things everywhere.
Walking into the exhibit, I immediately felt a sense of gloominess and darkness. The entire exhibit was monochromatic and showed images of oil well fires and explosions. From all the paintings, you notice a lot of pain and despair. There were various images of the workers drenched in oil and still continuing to do their job which made me realize how hardworking they are.
One painting that stood out to me was an image of two men using an oil machine and it gave me a sense of patriotism. From what I read from the pamphlet and image descriptions, Saddam Hussein was blowing up oil wells as a way of revenge. To see people working together for a common goal made me realize how patriotic and proud us Americans are and it left a big impact on me.
Elliott Erwitt was a photographer who started his career in the 1950s. The 1950s was known for the Korean War and the United States was under an economic depression. It was a time of lots of sorrow as the United States was still recovering from World War II. Erwitt’s photography clashes with the time period and tries to shed light on a more positive aspect of the 1950s. His photography focuses on everyday people and setting. They are all monochromatic, however they are also very warm because of the subject matter. He tries to use everyday people and settings but catch bizarre and silly moments. His photographs are very natural and raw but come off very bold. There is a big focus on contrast throughout all his images. Image sizes and weight are scattered throughout the image but create a nice balanced overall photograph. For instance, the photograph of children and geese have an even balance with the children grouped on the right and the geese grouped on the left. The amount of trees in the background are distributed evenly in the photo as well. Erwitt also includes bizarre objects in his photographs such as dogs in human clothes and crazy hats. These objects seem to resemble the eclectic art and fashion period during the 1950s. Fashion in the 1950s showed more patterns and colors and became very daring. Pop art became popular in the 1950s and vibrant color started to be utilized. Elliott Erwitt did an amazing job capturing the essence of his time period while taking his own spin on things by using the black and white contrast consistently.
Riley Matthew Irving Penn
When I walked into the centennial I first read and saw the shots of people in what seems to be a narrow corner. This narrowness exacerbated people’s natural physique (the analysis/preface written by the museum points out someone’s thin shoulders but big feet). This creates an element of perspective that people aren’t normally in but this photoshoot shows the unnatural tension created. I’ve seen a lot of photoshoots with seemingly random things intertwined and being reacted to by other subjects but there’s an easiness and simplicity connected with these shots. There is intrigue in natural human composition, all that is needed is to find ways, like a very sharp, acute angle, to show it off.
I also loved the sleekness of his work for Vogue. It encompasses words like “vogue” or “chic” and “fashionable” but not in a pretentious way. The clothing and the position of the women is just so strong you can follow it with your eyes. There’s a part in the museum where there are about 9 Vogue covers fitted together in a square and the negative space works well when positioned behind strong, fashion statements. I noticed the repetition of thin, white models but that may be little more than a sign of the times. Another sign of the times was the reoccurrence of cigarettes in these shoots. With the thin, white women, the black hats and attire, cigarettes and darting eyes I get the stereotypical French femme fatale character. I like it though.
The nudes are one of my favorite collections because of the rejection of attraction because I like those who dabble in taboo. These bodies seemed like works of art like how women should be seen, not wonders of sexual desires, so examining the unorthodox positions and apparent vastness of human body is great to behold. One of the pieces, a woman sitting down, a bit hunched, with a view of her back reminds me of pictures of mountains out in the Midwest. Grand, vast and telling.Irving Penn
The show, I thought was diverse in terms of aesthetic. My favorite collection was of the natives because I’m predisposed to being interested in those types of people. I enjoyed the way they were photographed from head to toe. It seemed very natural. Other times pictures taken like that aren’t really all that natural.
The nude bodies were also interesting because they showed women of all shapes and sizes. The images were also developed at different times making some lighter than others and vice versa.
The African tribes and scarification were intense because they showed the women’s skin with detail and had them all come together to show the unity and commitment of these tribes.
After attending the Irvin Penn exhibit, I found the portraits and still images very compelling. The black and white images with people both dressed in classy-classic wear, and blue collar work capture the essence of the people very well. However, I found the deconstructed camera piece very interesting because it was both chaotic but organized in a way that a viewer can understand.
My favorite piece was the multicolored picture of a woman’s lip with different shades of paint or makeup on it. The picture portrays various colors each identifying various personas of her own identity. In my mind the contrast represent different emotions that a woman can have. The way that the makeup is applied also makes me uncomfortable. The pictures of the poppies also were very great because of the great use of white space to emphasize the “bland” colors of the actual image.
Irving Penn’s work made it clear that he used many elements to convey his mind. All photos were black and white. There were many great things about the photographs. For me, my favorite element was his use of the room. I don’t really see it that often. When I think of a corner of a room or where the walls meet, I think it is limiting. It closes your perspective. Penn uses rooms as another tool. It’s basically a landscape. I feel like he uses the walls to give even more focus on his objects. For example, my eyes would be drawn towards where the walls go. That was definitely something I would consider doing in my next photographs of still objects.
For Penn’s portraits, it becomes evident how lighting can create beautiful photos. It definitely reminded me of my favorite black and white movies. Casablanca came into my mind when I viewed specific portraits. Those portraits with light twinkling off the subjects eyes while mainly the rest of under a shadow. It surprised me also when I saw that some subjects were not even posing. I thought they were a big risk as a photographer to put out under their name.
In the exhibition of Irving Penn’s photograph collection, it seems to be that he has shown strong characteristics for each of works.
First of all, in his still life photographs, the objects seem to be randomly arranged but there’s an invisible order behind, and then he captured the moment of accidents. For example, in his work “Still Life with Watermelon”, he arranged the objects to look very random; the seeds are scattered in all directions, and put the half of bread in no specific way. However, in the overall picture, it looks like all the objects seem to be organized in purpose. When it comes to combination of colors, he applied various colors but united them with a specific tone; therefore, his works make me think of watercolor paintings.
Second, in his portraits, he simplifies the background so that the object can grab more attention to itself. For example, his works in the cover of VOGUE magazines, he uses different angles and poses for each piece of works. By applying simple monotones to the background and placing the model in the middle of frame, the model itself is extremely highlighted.
Finally, when it comes to his works on nudes, it seems highly surrealistic in his photographs. He took photo shoot extremely close to the object, so it exaggerates the ‘perspective,’ the object itself looks distorted, and it results to create surrealistic spaces. Thus, by rearranging the object and spaces, he creates unfamiliar scene in his work. It seems to be that Penn’s work basically focuses on applying various perspectives on the typical object to create never-seen scenes in result of different point of views.
Looking through his works, I’ve learned a lesson that the beauty could be created not only by something new but also by ordinary objects from different point of views and arrangement.
The Irving Penn exhibition at the Metropolitan museum is a definite eye opener. It was a very spectacular display of his art in multiple mini galleries which helps to show the viewer the different style of photographs Penn took throughout this lifetime. From the moment you walk into the entrance, two large still life photographs in color hit you almost instantly. One in particular, Still Life with Watermelon, shows the close attention to detail and the control Penn had over his artwork. As you progressed though the galleries, the color ones fade as the black and white photos take prominence. The images consisted of models arranged in careful order, either in one frame or multiple frames. Layout and the choice of frame was an essential part in the presentation of his work.
One of the most interesting group of images would have to be his cigarettes. They emit his style yet they are unlike his other works. Perhaps this comes from his background as his father was a painter. Though they are black and white, the details in the images makes them seem very mysterious and surreal.
Another group we cannot forget is his fashion photographs. The early vogue covers he did really paved the way to future vogue styles and typography. The only downfall about this whole exhibition was that it was too overwhelming for me. He had done a lot of artworks so it was too much to grasp at once. Perhaps it would make sense to go back and see his artworks once again and explore what other intentions he might have had when taking these images.