‘For Me, Flowers Are Acts of God’: A New London Exhibition Celebrates Irving Penn’s Spectacular Floral Portraits

Penn’s work reached an early apotheosis within the ’40s and ’50s, these post-war years which W. H. Auden termed the “Age of Anxiousness,” and Penn’s eye was correspondingly exacting, virtually existentialist. By putting his topics in isolation towards a plain grey painted backdrop or a size of black carpet, granular and dust-flecked, he got here as near the reality as he may, and in essentially the most direct of phrases. “The photographic course of for me,” he as soon as defined, “is primarily simplification and elimination.”

Although he would solely begin on them in earnest in 1967, his flower footage had been no exception. Like a taxonomist figuring out a uncommon and unique species, his rigorous remark allowed his viewers to see a rose as a rose however from a unique approach, a contemporary and explicit perspective—a Penn portrait, maybe.

American Vogue commissioned 9 annual portfolios of images devoted to 1 flower. These had been a Christmas present to readers, revealed every December till 1975 (although the holding picture of that remaining 12 months’s survey, a dandelion, was, if you happen to had been horticulturally inclined, extra of a weed).

The inaugural function was “Lust for Tulips,” a range photographed in Penn’s Fifth Avenue penthouse studio. On “Cottage Tulip (Sorbet),” the drops of water (most likely used to refresh the bloom below the glare of Penn’s studio lamps) catch the sunshine, the pinnacle itself having remodeled itself right into a fizzing, popping explosion of colour. Elevating pictures to the extent of portray was Penn’s lifelong motivation, and, in the long run, one among his biggest achievements.

Poppies had been subsequent for 1968. A set-up of oriental poppies, three in a line, had been starting to lose their petals—one, in actual fact, utterly denuded and sheltering behind its neighbor like a trend mannequin in lesser arms immediately caught unawares within the highlight. Peonies, orchids, roses, lilies, and begonias adopted 12 months on 12 months, genus on genus…

Penn’s method was dispassionate. He didn’t search magnificence for magnificence’s sake, because the step by step disintegrating trio of poppies may attest. “I can declare no particular information,” he wrote within the introduction to Flowers, “that the reader may imagine he has a proper to count on of somebody making a guide about flowers.” He added that his enjoyment of such ignorance allowed him to take satisfaction in type and colour and to stay unimpeded by issues of rarity, or, as he put it, “tied to the conference {that a} flower should be photographed at its second of unblemished and nubile perfection.”

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