Lizzie Baur

Irving Penn
Graphic Identity + Exhibition Graphics, 2024
de Young museum

Irving Penn is widely recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest photographers. Vogue’s longest-standing contributor, Penn revolutionized fashion photography in the postwar era. Using neutral backgrounds, he emphasized models’ personalities through their gestures and expressions. The exhibition includes approximately 175 photographs, spanning every period of Penn’s nearly 70-year career.

A major through line of this exhibition centered on theatricality and artifice—setting a scene that deconstructs or calls attention to artifice. Penn’s existential portrait series is a perfect example of that. For this series Penn created a banal, temporary set in which he stuffed his subjects into a corner crevice, challenging them to grapple with physically occupying such an unusual space. Their bodies became almost sculptural as his sitters contort and utilize the space in radically different ways. In order to rearticulate this gesture typographically, I started to visualize their bodies as letterforms. I chose Charlottenburg, a variable width typeface which allows you to manually scale individual letterforms wider, for the title lock-up.

Typeset in Charlottenburg and ITC Garamond. Installation photography by Gary Sexton.