Irving Penn is known as one of America’s greatest and most innovating Modernist photographers. Primarily known for his fashion photography, a genre he changed forever by having his subjects photographed on a simple white or gray background, Penn was also a meticulous and brilliant darkroom technician. Recently, the Irving Penn Foundation shared an image of one of Penn’s notes on the printmaking techniques used to create a version of his “Cretan Landscape.” Irving Penn’s Notebook is an amazing look into the mind of a Photography Master.
This notation comes from the verso of the “Cretan Landscape” print in our last post. As you see, Penn kept meticulous records about the pigments he used. One of the many treasures in the Irving Penn Archives at The Art Institute of Chicago is a notebook with 75 pages of Penn’s technical notes on his gum bichromate experiments. The scans can be found with an Internet search for “Irving Penn Notebook B3”. #archives #gumbichromate #IrvingPenn⠀
The notebook, simply titled “Notebook B3 – Pigment and Porcelain” features 75 pages of Penn’s handwritten notes detailing his process and experimentation when shooting as well as his darkroom technique for the corresponding prints. On page 35 of the notebook, keen-eyed fans of Penn’s work will find his notes on one of his more famous photographs – “Seine Rowboat.”
The magic and beauty behind Penn’s work lies in his deceptively simple-looking compositions; their minimalist approach hides the complexity in lighting, framing, posing of his subjects when shooting and the labor-intensive work that went into mastering the darkroom techniques like the platinum-palladium process. A process that is responsible for the amazing tones and rich contrast that became his signature style.
Irving Penn’s photographic legacy spans over 50 years and includes 150 Vogue covers which solidified his reputation as a truly prolific and influential photographer. Penn will always be remembered for his masterfully composed images that featured light and contrast, and artful sparseness. Now, thanks to his meticulous note taking and scientific approach to photography, we have a clear insight into his creative process. We’re sure that every reader would love to take a closer look but our film photography nerds out there – prepare yourselves; you’ll spend your whole weekend going over each of the 75 pages of Notebook B3.