The Metropolitan Museum of the Art, in New York, has a fabulous new retrospective of the work of one of my idols, photographer Irving Penn.
For 50 years, Mr. Penn was one of the foremost fashion photographers in the world. But, that was just the most well known part of his work.
His work documenting indigenous tribes and tradesmen and still lifes resonates strongly with me. I love his portrait series called Small Trades, simple portraits of butchers, fishmongers, and plumbers. His work is elegant, classic and timeless.
One of his trademarks was the use of a beautiful, beat-up, old backdrop that looked, to me, like an old, scarred concrete wall. In fact, his backdrops were remnants of old theatrical stage curtains he would picked up somewhere, probably Paris. Remarkably, they had one one of his actual “sweeps” in the exhibit. I loved seeing the real deal, so I made a portrait of myself.
His work has always been an inspiration for a generation of photographers. In January, I asked a backdrop artist to paint me an “Irving Penn” sweep, with its splotches, “mistakes”, and scratches intact. I am using it to make new portraits and I love the way it creates an incredible environment for my subjects.