Irving Penn portraits of firemen in Paris, London and New York, 1950-51.

Paris, London and New York: Irving Penn celebrates valor and ethos in tradespeople.

by Bob Page on 12 December 2009

The Parisians were suspicious, the Londoners sensible and the New Yorkers unpredictable.

The exhibition “Small Trades,” now on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, shows Irving Penn photographs of tradespeople in Paris, London and New York, created mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. Penn wrote about the project in his 1974 book, “Worlds in a Small Room” –

“In general, Parisians doubted that we were doing exactly what we said we were doing. They felt there was something fishy going on, but they came to the studio more or less as directed – for the fee involved.

“But the Londoners were quite different from the French. It seemed to them the most logical thing in the world to be recorded in their work clothes. They arrived at the studio, always on time, and presented themselves to the camera with a seriousness and pride that were quite extraordinary.

“Of the three, the Americans as a group were the least predictable. In spite of our cautions, a few arrived for their sittings having shed their work clothes, shaved, even wearing dark Sunday suits, sure this was their first step on the way to Hollywood.”

Irving Penn portraits of firemen in Paris, London and New York, shot in 1950 and 1951, from the exhibition “Small Trades,” on display through 10 January at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

USA

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