Mr. Irving Penn

Irving Penn who was considered one of the most influential master of photography since the invention of the media died today in his apartment in New York City. He was 92 years old.

I got the sad news from my friend Duane Michaels himself considered a master of photography. I ran into him at the gym I sat down on the bike next to him and the first thing he said was, “Irving Penn died today!”.

I was shocked and had a hard time to believe it. Irving Penn was to photography what Michael Jackson was to pop music. He inspired generations of photographers, he was a superstar behind a camera. Photography would  not be where it is today without him.

Duane also had some amazing stories. The thing with masters is that they usually know each other.

He told me that one day he received a note from Mr. Penn in the mail without ever having met him before where he told him how much he loved his photography and that he later was invited for dinner at his country house. When Mr. Penn showed him his around that day he was walking between him and his wife Lisa Fonssagrive who by many is considered the first supermodel. Duane could not believe what was happening him and felt like he was in photography heaven.

What I heard from people that had worked with him was that he was an old school gentlemen. Everybody called him Mr. Penn. Even the most relentless people showed good behavior around him.

His career spanned over 70 years. He started shooting at 22 and worked until shortly before his death. He was also a very private man. It once took me hours to find a picture of him on the internet (now after his death one pops up right away on a google search). One of my friends who once interviewed him said that she was not allowed to tape the interview and that he mentioned to her that he was never filmed or recorded.

But what made his images so special? The simplicity? The lighting? Or was it his personality that was reflected in them? Hard to say. But fact is that his images had an have an enormous impact on the viewer.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Penn for inspiring me over the years. Today was a sad day because I would have loved to meet him one day to find out who the person is behind the work.

This will never happen but by leaving his huge body of work behind he will keep on inspiring me and many generations of photographers to come.

Thank you Mr. Penn!


“Mr. Irving Penn” Williamsburg, Brooklyn, “Grand Street Project”, inspired by Mr. Penn’s work, 2008


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