It was in this time before women entered the workforce and Freud entered popular culture that male bonding was not restricted by internalized homophobia. Lives were lived more intimately, with cramped living quarters, shared bedrooms and shared beds. One of the tragedies of post-war affluence is that made us more isolated from each other and now days borders on a phobia.Irving Penn's Buchers, Paris
My first encounter with Penn's work came before my art education, when magazines like Vogue would run Penn's images of Mud People. It was a time when art still intersected with popular culture.Irving Penn's Fireman, Paris
I attended Colin Westerbeck's lecture held in conjunction with the show. What I found interesting is Penn's identification with his subjects. He would show up for work in a denim shirt and jeans, dressed as the working class archetype. In the 60's when Penn again pulled out these negatives and made new palladium prints, Westerbeck describes Penn "painting" the palladium solution onto the paper. These later prints were made for a fine art market rather than reproduction in a magazine. So in some sense, Penn adopted the "trade" of the fine artist when reprinting the series for a new audience.Irving Penn's Fireman, London
What was also interesting was how much credit Westerbeck assigned to those working around Penn. It was Penn's editor Alexander Leiberman who suggested to Penn that he take up photography when Penn was employed as a graphic artist. Leiberman also suggested Little Trades series and enlisted the help of Edmonde Charles-Roux and photographer Robert Doisneau who recruited and cajoled the tradespeople to climb six flights of stairs (often lugging up the tools of their trade) to Penn's studio. It was with Charles-Roux's (the newly appointed editor of Paris Vogue) aesthetic eye, and Doisneau's knowledge of the city that made the series a success.
The show at he Getty is extensive--over 250 prints. From a quick overview, the variety of poses is amazing, considering the similarity in format. Looking more closely, the redundancies enhance the small differences: the aloof or serious French, professionalism and formality of the Brits, and the smiling and confident Americans. It's a reflection of each city's recent experience during WWII. Paris was occupied by the Nazis, London was bombed but not invaded, by contrast New Yorkers fought overseas, while those left behind remained out of harm's way.
Since I saw the show, Irving Penn has died (1917 - 2009) at the age of ninety-two. There are now oodles of posts on his life and work. Rather than clicking links, head over to the Getty and look at the real thing.Irving Penn's Busboy, Larue
There are a few women in the show, including several versions of the artist's model pictured here. Perhaps this anomaly can be read as Penn's self portrait. Unlike the famous people and fashion models he photographed, Penn turned away from the press like this model turns her back to the viewer. And Penn's conception of himself, he was a worker in the art trade, much like the model above.Irving Penn's Artist's Model