Photography, Recent Acquisitions

Small Trades by Irving Penn

Irving Penn first published 91 of these photographs in 1960 under the title Moments Preserved: Eight Essays in Photographs and Words. Shooting in New York, London, and Paris studios with only natural light, Penn preserved images of occupations that were soon to be lost, as well as those emerging with newer technologies. The images are modeled on the centuries old “cries” of Paris and London, and heavily influenced by the photography of Brassai and Sander. Penn presents the worker in attire with tools needed for the job, but he also evokes the physical being of the trade. Originally taken for editions of Vogue (French, Britannica, and American) in 1950 and 1951, this 2009 edition includes a discussion of Penn’s technical process and his quest for the perfect print. Penn’s photographs of small trades are sellers of cheese, balloons, and news, butchers and knife grinders, pastry chefs and chimney sweeps. The detail is superb. But it is the faces of course, that make these portraits so moving. The cooks and bakers swell with pride, and all the building tradesmen look so ambitious. But for me, it is always the firefighters with their “I’m here to rescue you” look. What’s not to make a girl swoon?