Irving Penn – Small Trades by Miriam King

22 06 2010

"Seamstress Fitter," London, 1950 (c) Irving Penn

"Milkman," New York, 1951 (c) Irving Penn

August Sander’s objective style of photography was undoubtedly an influence on many future generations of photographers, including Irving Penn’s Small Trades project. Working in Paris, London and New York in the 1950s Penn photographed trades people wearing their work clothes and carrying the tools of their trade. He photographed them in the studios he used for his fashion photography, so that a neutral backdrop and natural light are the setting in which the trades-people pose with a sense of pride. Where as Sanders photographed his photographed his subjects in their environment, Penn photographs them in isolation, taking away all the distractions & focusing our attention on the person and their attire. These photos really seem to reveal something about the individual themselves, not just their job.

Coal Man London 1950 (c) Irving Penn

Commis-Larue Paris 1950 (c) Irving Penn

Penn shot these photos on a medium format camera using Tri-X film. He came back to this project repeatedly over several decades making both silver gelatin prints as well as platinum/palladium prints, which have a greater tonal range.

If you would like to know more about Irving Penn & his Small Trades project, here are some links:

Irving Penn Small Trades at the Getty Center

A Review of the Exhibition at

New York Times – “Getty Museum Acquires Penn Photographs”

Irving Penn on Wikipedia

Irving Penn on Masters of Photography

– Miriam




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