Irving Penn: Fashion Photography Guru

by Sarah Clark
Fashion School Review Columnist

November 12, 2007

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Fashion design inspiration can come from a variety of sources--from urban hipsters to jet-setting socialites. But legendary fashion photographers like Irving Penn have a rare aesthetic sense and creativity that ensnares and inspires.

Penn's Quiet Rise to Fame
Penn started becoming famous in the 1950s around the time he began working as a fashion photographer for Vogue. He was known for his more minimalist prints that captured a rare kind of simplicity.

His work has become so well known and respected that many of his pieces are on display in museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which recently featured an exhibition of his platinum collection.

Fashion School Lessons from Penn
But what can fashion school students learn from legendary photographers like Penn that they can't learn from others in the fashion business? First, photographers like Penn are not necessarily driven by commercial influences. Penn admittedly didn't know a thing about fashion before he started shooting for Vogue. He was a true artist, lending a singular talent and vision to enhance whatever shot he was taking, whether it was a family of gypsies (which he famously photographed) or a fashion design spread of his one-time model and late wife Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn.

Getting the Most from Fashion Photography
While you're in fashion school, try to forge relationships with fashion photographers. Learn how they work. Ask questions. How do they imagine a shot, and then implement their ideas? What are their creative processes? This will also help you think about what your clothing designs might look like, or the image they might convey when pictured in an advertisement or fashion design editorial spread.

Fashion school offers an opportunity to explore your creativity and that of others in the clothing design business--and the more you learn about the creative and talented people who make fashion great, the richer your fashion education will be.

About the Author
Sarah Clark is a freelance writer specializing in career development and postsecondary education.

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