30 Brilliant Irving Penn Quotes to Bookmark

Looking for the best Irving Penn quotes? You’ve come to the right place. Below we have compiled a list of 30 of the best Penn quotes to inspire you and help take your photography to the next level.

If you haven’t done so already, we recommend reading our Irving Penn master profile article to learn more about his legendary career and photography philosophy.

Irving Penn Quotes

I can get obsessed by anything if I look at it long enough. That’s the curse of being a photographer.

Make things manageable enough to record them, to prune away anything inconsequential… Because less is more.

The greatest privilege I’ve had in photography is a change of diet.

I feed on art more than I ever do on photographs. I can admire photography, but I wouldn’t go to it out of hunger.

Brodovitch was the first person to show me the mystical quality of photographs.

I myself have always stood in the awe of the camera. I recognize it for the instrument it is, part Stradivarius, part scalpel.

Using simple equipment and daylight alone is for me a pleasure and a replenishment.

I am a professional photographer because it is the best way I know to earn the money I require to take care of my wife and children.

Photographing a cake can be art too.

Whatever the photograph – a description of the battlefield, a portrait of a Hollywood celebrity, the turn of collar on the latest fashion, images for a small edition book, or images to sell soap – all of them are equally important.

A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.

Irving Penn Quotes 2

Penn on Portrait Quotes

I try to find a person at a very serene, true, and fairly restful moment.

In portrait photography, there is something more profound that we seek inside a person while being painfully aware that a limitation of our medium is that the inside is recordable only insofar as is apparent on the outside.

What I really try to do is photograph people at rest, in a state of serenity.

I am going to find what is permanent in this face. Truth comes with fatigue. He displays himself just as he is, just as he did not want to look.

We don’t call them shoots here. We don’t shoot people. It’s really a love affair.

I think we agree on one thing, that the important thing is to get past the public facade. The person who arrives at the studio, as everybody knows, armed with an image of himself, he’s prepared to tell you how he wants to be. He’s not going to say it in so many words, because for the most part, he’s a fairly sophisticated person, but he has a facade, he’s prepared, a certain id, and of external armor. The job of a photographer, working for a publication, and we work for similar circumstances, gives for the sake of the reader, to get past this facade.

Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is the one they would like to show the world. Very often what lies behind the façade is rare and more wonderful than the subject knows or dares to believe.

Most of the time the ones who dislike the pictures the most confirm to me that the picture has hit home and is probably truer than I know. Nobody minds a boring picture, they mind a picture that has gotten to the soft core.

Irving Penn Quotes on Fashion Photography

In 1952, Liberman said to me, I must cut back on the work you do for Vogue. The editors don’t like it. They say the photographs burn on the page. After some years, I began to understand that what they wanted of me was simply a nice, sweet, clean-looking image of a lovely young woman. I began to do that, and that’s when I became valuable to them and had 200 to 300 pages a year. Up to that point, I had been trying to make a picture. Then I began to try to make a commodity. That’s what I’ve been doing in fashion photography ever since.

I always thought we were selling dreams, not clothes.

Many photographers feel their client is the subject. My client is a woman in Kansas who reads Vogue. I’m trying to intrigue, stimulate, feed her. My responsibility is to the reader. The severe portrait that is not the greatest joy in the world to the subject may be enormously interesting to the reader.

A fashion picture is a portrait just as a portrait is a fashion picture.

Irving Penn Quotes 1

The Master of Studio Photography

I found pictures trying to show peoples in their natural circumstances generally disappointing [but] feel secure in the artificial circumstances of the studio [accepting] for myself a stylization that I felt was more valid than a simulated naturalism

In the studio, too, I like it to be in no way grand. Nor do I feel grand, because I’m full of doubts still about the ability to get the picture I’m going to take.

I’ve tried a few times to depart from what I know I can do, and I’ve failed. I’ve tried to work outside the studio, but it introduces too many variables that I can’t control. I’m really quite narrow, you know.

I share with many people the feeling that there is a sweetness and constancy to light that falls into a studio from the north sky that sets it beyond any other illumination. It is a light of such penetrating clarity that even a simple object lying by chance in such a light takes on an inner glow, almost a voluptuousness.

Penn and the Print

Sometime in 1964, I realized that I was a victim of a printmaking obsession, a condition that persists today.

The printed page seems to have come to something of a dead end for all of us.

A beautiful print is a thing in itself, not just a halfway house on the way to the page.

Over the years I must have spent thousands of hours silently brushing on the liquid coatings, preparing each sheet in anticipation of reaching the perfect print.

What’s your Favorite Irving Penn Quote?

Have a favorite Irving Penn quote from the list? Let us know in the comments section below.

Don’t forget to bookmark this page, or print it out, and refer to it next time you need some inspiration. Also, don’t forget to share it with others through the usual channels (social media, forums, websites, etc).

If you would like to learn more about Irving Penn’s photography, we recommend reading our Irving Penn master profile article. To see more of Penn’s remarkable work, check out the image archive on the Irving Penn Foundation website.

Looking for more words of wisdom from master photographers? Check out the quotes section of Photogpedia for more great photography quotes.

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Founder of Photogpedia.com. Photography enthusiast, occasional filmmaker, part-time writer and full-time dreamer. Rediscovered photography in 2012 and have been trying to level up my photography skills since (I'm getting there) #chasingthecreative

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