Widely recognised as one of the world’s most important photographers, Irving Penn’s work has and continues to be exhibited worldwide. Marking the first time that Penn’s Flowers series has been shown in its entirety, this exhibition of 42 prints gives an insight into the way in which the photographer’s approach to still life evolved.
From the 1930s onward he created assemblages from everyday objects, homing in on close details and marvelling at the precise form of each object; his portraits of flowers display meticulous attention to detail, each captured in a signature minimal style against a plain backdrop. In this way, the portraits mirror Penn’s fashion photography with their often unexpected angles and focal points, however his choice of specimen was often past the point of perfection, spotted and slightly torn, rather than pristine and elegant like the couture captured in his fashion editorials. Penn originally trained as a painter, and the work bears visual similarity to memento mori paintings, and like these works, looks at mortality and the ephemeral nature of life as its overriding theme.
In fact, the series was initiated by an American Vogue commission in 1967 for the Christmas edition, which then became the first of seven annual assignments, with the photographer dedicating his work to a single type of flower each year: 1967, Tulips; 1968, Poppies; 1968, Peonies; 1969, Orchids; 1970, Roses; 1971, Lilies; 1973, Begonias. Penn continued to return to the subject until his death in 2009.
Irving Penn: Flowers, until 16 January 2016, Hamiltons Gallery, 13 Carlos Pl, London, W1K 2EU.
Explore the show at www.hamiltonsgallery.com.
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1. Irving Penn, Rose ‘Fritz Nobis’ London, 1970 © The Irving Penn Foundation.