Irving Penn Platinum ‘Cigarettes’

June 20, 2012

Cigarette No. 86, New York, 1972, Platinum/Palladium.
(Courtasy-Hamiltons Gallery)

Opening tomorrow is an exhibition of Irving Penn’s platinum/palladium prints at Hamilton’s Gallery in London, entitled ‘Cigarettes’ it shows how Penn transformed one of the most widely consumed and discarded products of consumer society from that of pure detritus into a symbolic representation of contemporary culture.  By printing images of  ‘Cigarettes’ in platinum, Penn elevated each image to the status of a rare object. The soft, broad tonal ranges and gentle contrasts accentuate the nature of the original objects, further emphasizing their material characteristics.

When the series of prints was first shown to John Szarkowski, the influential curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1975, he on the spot offered Penn an exclusive exhibition which took place later that year. The show incited significant controversy at the time, however today the prints are widely regarded as masterpieces. The complete series of 26 prints will be on display and am looking forward to visiting the gallery to see them myself.  I enjoyed reading Francis Hodgson’s early preview of the exhibition…..

 ‘They are beautiful, though. There are surfaces like aerial views of landscapes and like skin. There are the lovely gradations of platinum, finding ever tinier nuances between one grey and the next. The backgrounds, sometimes paler, sometimes heavier, seem to vary like the weather. There are the scars and wounds in the split paper, the folds and creases. Stray whiskers sprout at odd angles, the burn lines at the edge of unburnt paper are sometimes pin-sharp. That sharpness itself is a miracle – the focus in these pictures is merciless: big camera, studio conditions, unerring photographer.’

 Hodgson is a well respected writer on the history and culture of photography and his wonderfully insightful review can be found here.

 Irving Penn, ‘Cigarettes’ runs from June 21 to August 17 at Hamilton’s Gallery, 13 Carlos Place London. Accompany the show is an accurate fully illustrated catalogue raisonné of the exhibition, which can be purchased via the gallery or here


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