For those of us who came to professional photography in the early 1960s, the major influences were Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa and Larry Burrows in photojournalism. But if you aspired to the path of photojournalism that included magazine illustration, then there was Bert Stern, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. With all the humility I can muster, if ever I could claim a photographer influenced my work, it would be Irving Penn.
I don’t remember how I first became aware of his pictures. Maybe it was through the pages of the Swiss design magazine Graphis that I used to obsessively borrow from the graphic designers at the News and Information Bureau in Canberra. His influence on me and several generations of photographers has been profound.
Half of my photographic life has been spent pursuing the ephemeral craft of the photojournalist; the other half as an illustrative photographer; always with Penn’s cool style and unwavering aesthetic hovering over my work. He, (along with Edward Curtis and Frank Hurley) was the catalyst for my portraits for Polaroid in Papua New Guinea. It was from Penn that I borrowed the idea using a daylight studio. My portraits were an unashamed homage to his photography there.
He died in Manhattan on Wednesday last, aged 92. I believe he will continue to influence generations of future photographers…