Born in New York, Irving Penn - the director Arthur Penn’s elder brother - works in the advertising world when he decides, in 1942 to settle in Mexico to dedicate himself to painting. Returning to New York a year later, he collaborates with Alexander Liberman at Vogue and soon takes on photography to create the ideal covers he dreams of. Most of the American photographer’s work resides in contrast: it is inventive despite its apparent simplicity, beautiful even when it represents the ugly and dignified as it depicts modest individuals. Mostly in black and white, Irving Penn’s images emphasized directness and refused artificial lights and active outdoors, always to be taken in front of a signature grey textile background. In 1943, Edna Chase welcomed the news of Alexander Libermann commissioning the photographer for Vogue’s cover with the following words: ‘If you’re going to do such a radical thing as a still-life cover, why don’t you get the best still-life photographer to do it?’ The result was an instant hit and revealed Irving Penn’s mastering of narratives with his Vermeer-like ephemeral subjects and anthropomorphic creations that mingled fashion items, decaying flowers and food. The former painter’s hand was clearly visible in the grain of his photographies, the elaborate compositions, the profound blacks, the bright tones and the picturesque lines.