Monday, November 23, 2009

Small Trades

The American photographer Irving Penn (1917 – 2009) is renowned for his black and white portraiture and fashion photography. During the early 1950's, while working in Paris, London, and New York, he created a series of photos of tradespeople dressed in work clothes and carrying the tools of their occupations. The entire collection of those images, titled Small Trades, is currently on exhibit at the Getty Center in Los Angeles

In each of the photos, the subjects occupy the same space with a neutral backdrop and natural light. Whether it was intentional or not, they are all roughly the same size no matter their trade, outfit, gender or age. Penn's signature style is so complete, the tradespeople are as elegant and iconic as any fashion model. The Penn photo below, of his model/wife (not part of the exhibition) is lit and staged in the exact format. There is obvious pride and dignity in the faces of the Small Trades series, but the austerity of the photos leave a lasting impression of unmistakable distance.

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