Irving Penn’s Fantastic Corner Portraits of Cultural Icons

One of the most prolific photographers working in the 20th century (and certainly one of the most famous fashion magazine photographers of his era), Irving Penn shot a series of minimalist studio portraits back in the 1940s and ’50s that were celebrated for capturing the personality behind the celebrity. “Sometime in 1948 I began photographing portraits in a small corner space made of two studio flats pushed together, the floor covered with a piece of old carpeting… this confinement, surprisingly seemed to comfort people, soothing them,” he once explained. “The walls were a surface to lean on or push against. For me the picture possibilities were interesting; limiting the subjects movements seemed to relieve me of part of the problem of holding onto them.” Click through to see how everyone from Salvador Dali to Gypsy Rose Lee reacted to being photographed in a corner.


Irving Penn, Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation. [Spotted via How to Be a Retronaut]


Irving Penn, Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Truman Capote, New York, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Martha Graham, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Salvador Dalí, New York, 1947. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Marlene Dietrich, December 23, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Spencer Tracey, New York, March 23, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Igor Stravinsky, New York, April 22, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Gypsy Rose Lee, New York, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.


Irving Penn, Joe Louis, New York, February 15, 1948. Courtesy of The Irving Penn Foundation.