Field Trip: Irving Penn at the Met

- - Field Trip

When you think of iconic fashion magazine images, which favorite shots come to mind?

Ethereal, natural, almost dream-like images shot by Annie Leibovitz? Maybe bold, bright shots by Mario Testino? Perhaps the tongue-in-cheek, sexy, playful images by Cass Bird?

These prolific photogs share something in common. No matter the celebrity, product or scene they are shooting, they do so through their own recognizable lens.

Irving Penn is one such master at putting his spin on a photograph regardless of the subject—and is a recent subject himself of an exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit marks the centennial celebration of Penn’s birth, and we were lucky to get a few of our own photos of this artist’s expansive body of work over a career spanning almost 70 years.

Step behind the lens of a fashion photographer for a moment. Imagine being tasked with featuring a certain shoe, for example. Here’s how Leibovitz has tackled the challenge:

And a sample of a Testino shoe shot:

And Cass Bird’s shoe view:

And finally, the easily-distinguished style of Irving Penn:

Most of Penn’s fashion photographs were shot in black and white, and he was (and continues to be) one of Vogue’s most celebrated photographers. A revolutionary in fashion photography, Penn featured models as no other photographer had before—against a simple back drop he found in Paris in 1950. Penn also featured the back drop itself, allowing its edges to be visible and giving the viewer an intimate “behind the scenes” peek in addition to the featured couture.


Penn’s favorite model? Lisa Fonssagrives, pictured above, who Penn was deeply in love with and eventually married. Penn’s signature style featured not only Fonssagrives, but extreme attention to detail and composition as evidenced below:


Notice every drape of the sleeve:


Imagine capturing the right angle of the stitch line on this bow:


While the Irving Penn exhibit has officially closed at the Met, you can learn more from the audio tour that accompanied the exhibit here. Listen to first-hand accounts of what it was like to work with Penn from his son and editors at Vogue.

If you are an aspiring fashion photographer, let the famed photographers mentioned above provide you with thought-provoking inspiration. How will you define your signature style? How will your shots stand apart from the rest? Will others be able to say, “Oh, that’s a Penn, Leibovitz or fill-in-your-name-here?”

And if you are a designer, give some thought to how you would like your aesthetic represented. Connecting with a photographer who shares your vision is one of the most important brand-building steps you can take as you begin to market yourself and your brand. Feel free to use the comments below as a place to connect with other aspiring fashion artists.

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Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.