Irving Penn: The Small Trades (1950)

Photographs by Irving Penn, collectively known as The Small Trades, will be on view at Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary Street, Fourth Floor, San Francisco, from November 26 through December 24, 1997.  This will be the first exhibition solely devoted to this highly influential aspect of Penn’s career.

During the summer and fall of 1950 Penn set up temporary north light studios in London, Paris, and New York.  He then sought out people going to and from work and invited them to come to his studio exactly as they were at that time, with the tools of their profession. They were firmly urged not to change anything or “make anything better”. Penn writes,

Jumping quickly from country to country gave me an especially clear look at national differences. The Parisians doubted that we were doing exactly what we said we were doing. They felt there was something fishy going on… But [to] the Londoners it seemed the most logical thing in the world to be recorded in their work clothes. They…presented themselves to the camera with a seriousness and pride that was quite endearing… 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.

First an art director, then a painter, Irving Penn came to photography in 1944. For nearly fifty years he has excelled in many different genres, producing a body of work that has had a major impact on fashion, portraiture, nudes, still life, and advertising. Internationally recognized, his work is included in the collections of many major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the National Gallery, Washington D.C. and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

This exhibition runs concurrently with Nicholas Nixon: Bebe & Me