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Irving Penn

Between 1964 and 1971, Irving Penn completed seven di erent projects that are usually called his ethnographic studies. He travelled with a portable studio, taking photographs of di erent ethnic and cultural groups. In May 1970 Penn was commissioned by Vogue to travel to New Guinea, where he took photographs of warriors in traditional and ceremonial masks and costumes. ‘Man with Pink Face, New Guinea, 1970’ is one of these photographs. There are two versions of the image, in platina palladium and as a colour picture in which the man’s coral–coloured terrifying mask stands out against the neutral background. The pictures from

Penn’s visit to New Guinea were published in Vogue, for which he worked for 65 years. Instead of going out on the streets and taking pictures of the world around him, Penn brought the world into his studio. He never took photos on the spur of the moment; his subjects were always carefully chosen. When travelling, he had local people help him to contact and select potential models. It is telling that he entitled one of his books ‘Worlds In A Small Room’. He set up the same studio wherever he was – Peru, Crete, Nepal, New Guinea or Morocco – so capturing the whole world in the same small space.

The ethnographic suites of pictures of anonymous people have a great deal in common with his glamorous portraits of celebrities. They are all taken in a similar way, with similar neutral backgrounds and natural light, and with great respect for the subject. Penn told several sources about these fascinating encounters: “These remark– able strangers would come to me and place themselves in front of my camera and in this clear north sky light I would make records of their physical presence. The pictures would survive us both and at least to that extent something of their already dissolving cultures would be preserved forever”. Irving Penn in ‘Worlds In A Small Room’


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