A manila envelope in the late photographer Irving Penn’s studio, labeled “Photographism,” eventually evolved into a full-fledged system with boxes, posters, and labels. Penn coined the neologism to represent his unique stylistic approach, which combined aspects of print media, typography, and graphic design, as well as the fine-art styles of drawing, painting and sculpture. But it’s far better seen than described.
Works in “Photographism,” on view at Pace, span eight decades, from the late 1930s to the early 2000s, and are grouped into six themes. But it is the accompanying annotations, such as preparatory sketches, archival material, and meticulous notes—which have rarely been exhibited—that best articulate his particular philosophy. Photographism encompasses early work that seems more calligraphic than photographic, like the enigmatic Fish Made Out of Fish (1939), made only a year after Penn first picked up the camera; images that at first seem more like collage than fashion photography, such as in Two Miyake Warriors (B) (1998); and collage that borders on Magrittean surreal, such as Faucet Dripping Diamonds (1963).
Irving Penn, Ginkgo Leaves, New York, 1990. Dye transfer print, 22-3/4 × 19-3/8 inches, image and paper. Signed, titled, dated and annotated verso with stamps and pencil. © The Irving Penn Foundation