14 September 2009
Working in Paris, London, and New York in the early 1950s, photographer Irving Penn (born 1917) created images of tradespeople dressed in work clothes and carrying their tools. A neutral backdrop and natural light allowed his subjects to present themselves with dignity. Penn revisited his Small Trades series over many decades. In 2008 the Getty Museum acquired the most comprehensive group of these images, carefully selected by the photographer, which are now on show. Mr Penn is renowned for his contributions to portrait, still life, and fashion photography, and a career that has spanned more than six decades at Vogue. In 1950, Vogue assigned Penn to photograph workers in Paris, and thus this monumental work began. Capturing the humble coal heaver and the crisply dressed waiter with equal directness, Penn's portraits underscore cultural differences. Two hundred six unique images from the series are flawlessly reproduced in the new book. In addition, the introductory essay describes the history and context of The Small Trades series and its importance to Penn's career and the history of photography. An interview with Edmonde Charles-Roux, the chief editor for French Vogue from 1952 to 1966, who assisted him on the assignment in Paris, provides fascinating insights of the Paris sittings.