Irving Penn: Small Trades

Overview

Photographer Irving Penn (b. 1917) is renowned for his innovative contributions to portrait, still life, and fashion photography, and a career that has spanned more than six decades at Vogue magazine.  In 1950, Vogue assigned Penn to photograph workers in Paris, and thus his monumental work The Small Trades began.  Created in 1950 and 1951 in Paris, London, and New York, The Small Trades consists of portraits of skilled tradespeople dressed in their work clothes and carrying the tools of their ...

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Overview

Photographer Irving Penn (b. 1917) is renowned for his innovative contributions to portrait, still life, and fashion photography, and a career that has spanned more than six decades at Vogue magazine.  In 1950, Vogue assigned Penn to photograph workers in Paris, and thus his monumental work The Small Trades began.  Created in 1950 and 1951 in Paris, London, and New York, The Small Trades consists of portraits of skilled tradespeople dressed in their work clothes and carrying the tools of their respective trades. Capturing the humble coal heaver and the crisply dressed waiter with equal directness, Penn’s arresting portraits also underscore fascinating cultural differences.

The Small Trades was Penn’s most extensive body of work, and he returned to it over many decades, producing ever more exacting prints. Two hundred-six unique images from the series are flawlessly reproduced in this book.  In addition, the introductory essay describes the history and context of The Small Trades series and its importance to Penn’s career and the history of photography.  An interview with Edmonde Charles-Roux, the chief editor for French Vogue from 1952 to 1966, who assisted Penn on the assignment in Paris, provides fascinating insights of the Paris sittings. 

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

 “The nobility and individuality of Penn’s subjects, and the simple setting, enhanced only by the sitters’ tools of their trades, became staples of Penn’s equanimous style.  Published by Vogue in 1951, the photographs have now been collected in a coffee-table book, which is both a paean and swan song to a lost era.”—British Vogue

 “These photographs . . . are respectful, consistent, beautiful, intelligent, daring. And unmissable. A brilliant catalogue.”—Financial Times

  “Penn . . . was a master of portrait photography. . . . This collection is of ordinary, anonymous workers—plumbers, bakers, house painters, and street artists in Paris, London, and New York.  Each and every one is compelling.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer

 “Rather than picture [his subjects] where they worked, Penn brought them into his studio to pose like models against a sooty gray paper background.  The smoky light of his black-and-white prints makes them look like living sculpture, carved into individuality by their life experiences and their times.”—San Francisco Chronicle

 “More than 200 prints are reproduced in this finely executed tribute to a master.”—Professional Photographer

 “The broadest view yet of one of Penn’s most important and appealing early projects. . . . Small Trades has the heft of history—it’s a sociologist’s dream—but it’s also one of the year’s most fascinating books of fashion photographs.”—Photograph Magazine

 “This magnificent book, with its outstanding images, is a pleasure to hold.” —Choice

"The book is a work of art in its own right; an object of beauty, and a Noah's ark for vanishing trades."—The Jewish Chronicle

Library Journal
Irving Penn (1917-) is best known as a Vogue fashion photographer who creates a sense of drama in his pictures with a masterly use of natural lighting. Many books have covered Penn's phases of portraiture, fashion, and still-life photography; however, this exhibition catalog by Heckert and Lacoste, an associate curator and an assistant curator, respectively, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is the first to focus on his "small trades" series from 1950 and 1951. These portraits of common workers like chimney sweeps, window washers, policemen, and riveters in New York, London, and Paris are all black-and-white, full-body portraits that may be viewed at the Getty through January 10, 2010. The authors contextualize the images via a discussion of Penn's career and his work on the small trades project. An interview with author and former French Vogue editor Edmonde Charles-Roux recounts her talks with Penn about the project at the time it was completed. VERDICT The book's major strengths are the full-page presentation of the photos and the complete catalog at the end. Photographers and students of photography and art history will appreciate the most.—Eric Linderman, Euclid P.L., OH\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780892369966
  • Publisher: Getty Publications
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 9.80 (w) x 12.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

 Virginia A. Heckert and Anne Lacoste are associate curator and assistant curator, respectively, in the Department of Photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2010

    Disappointed

    Have been waiting since 12/22/09 to receive the book that I ordered. I'm not very happy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2010

    Awesome Compilation

    A complete compilation of this series in your home. I saw the show at The Getty and the images as good as you can get in a book form. A great addition to your book collection especially if you are an Irving Penn fan. Aside from that, Penn's series itself is so beautiful it would be interesting to anyone. It's a wonderful snapshot of the era and the under appreciated, mostly extinct or disappearing vocations represented.

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  • Posted November 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    In Praise of the Common Man

    Irving Penn is an established giant in the field of photography having supplied the editors of Vogue Magazine with his elegant fashion photography for over fifty years. While many would question such a famous glamour photographer's interest in the beauty of the common man, in this excellent volume, a catalogue from the current J. Paul Getty Museum exhibition curated by Virginia A. Heckert and Anne Lacoste, evidence is presented and takes a memory trip back to the years 1950 and 1951 when Penn focused his considerable talent on photographing the people who do the daily jobs considered less than glamorous in the cities of New York, London and Paris.

    Using the studio setting in much the way his fashion images were created, Penn uses for each of these portraits a textured wall that captures an array of light and shadow in subtle ways and in front of this backdrop he invited bakers, cleaners, maids, and craftsmen of all trades to pose, face forward, alone and in pairs, and gives these simple 'models' the same treatment of dramatic light and shadow eloquence that had made him famous. The results are an embarrassment of riches of capturing the most genteel vision of 'Small Trades' available in one collection. This is a book of beautiful art as well as an appreciation of the people who make our lives work smoothly. A fine reminder of Irving Penn's enormous talent.

    Grady Harp

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