Museum Home Past Exhibitions Irving Penn: Small Trades

September 9, 2009–January 10, 2010 at the Getty Center


Working in Paris, London, and New York in the early 1950s, photographer Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009) created masterful representations of skilled tradespeople dressed in work clothes and carrying the tools of their occupations. A neutral backdrop and natural light provided the stage on which his subjects could present themselves with dignity and pride. Penn revisited his Small Trades series over many decades, producing evermore-exacting prints, including platinum/palladium enlargements. In 2008 the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired the most comprehensive group of these images, carefully selected by the photographer—155 gelatin silver prints and 97 platinum/palladium prints—that are being exhibited in their entirety for the first time.

About Irving Penn
Irving Penn was one of the most respected photographers of the 20th century. In a career that began at the premiere fashion magazine Vogue in 1943 and spans more than six decades, he created innovative fashion, still life, and portrait studies. His photographs are defined by the elegant simplicity and meticulous rigor that became the trademarks of his style.

About the Exhibition
The exhibition begins with an overview of the Small Trades photographs Penn created in Paris, London, and New York in 1950 and 1951. The first gallery includes original gelatin silver prints, as well as French, British, and American editions of Vogue magazine that published selections of the photographs from each city. Several galleries are devoted to the platinum/palladium prints that Penn began to make after several years of experimentation in the mid-1960s. One gallery presents Penn's photographs of one trade as found in each of the three cities. Another focuses on Penn's process, comparing gelatin silver prints and platinum/palladium prints side-by-side. Other groupings demonstrate Penn's use of tools to create elegant, balanced compositions; his fascination with the crisp uniforms associated with the Parisian restaurant trades; and his dynamic treatment of technological occupations in New York.