DEPARTING from the long tradition of still life painting, Irving Penn turned his own photographic eye to the subject and is heralded one of the twentieth century's most revered masters of this time-honoured genre. Bringing a modernist sensibility to the presentation of still life, Penn's approach appears classical to us today; yet his edginess and wit continues to shock as well as delight, as seen in his editorial pages for Vogue through to the rawer work of his later years where he explores objects such as bones, rubbish and cigarette butts.
"Penn has been one of photography's conspicuous innovators and distinguished performers in at least two of the medium's oldest and most successful genres: still life and portraiture." John Szarkowski.
The character of Penn's still life subjects is parallel to the character of his portraits; Szarkowski went on to say. His portraits claimed people were interesting enough they did not need to be photographed with the support of a glamorous backdrop and his still lives - sides of beef, heads of cheese, spoons, cigarette butts on saucers, lipstick stains on glasses - if properly considered, contained all the necessary ingredients for a captivating plot. 'Food' takes on a striking nobility in which Penn presents order and elegant simplicity with materials that one might consider less than promising.
UK, London, 27 Nov - 17 Jan 2009