Sunday, May 15, 2011

Irving Penn: Small Trades, Big Pride

 
The previous couple of posts highlighted the gloomy side of labor, but those shouldn't dissuade you from the idea of manual labor or work in general. Both Lewis Hine and Sebasti√£o Salgado sought to expose the hardships faced by laborers in their working environment, but Irving Penn's Small Trades project created half a century ago illustrates the exact opposite by portraying these workers in a beautiful light.

The entire Small Trades collection comprises 252 full length portraits done by Mr. Penn and shows off different professions in a simple studio setting. There is a noticeable absence of women in the series, but that shouldn't detract from the ingenuity of this phenomenal work.


The project started in 1950 in a studio in Paris. Mr. Penn was one of the most sought after fashion photographers of his time and the idea of photographing ordinary workers would seem strange given that he was used to shooting glamorous models for fashion magazines.

Working on assignment for Vogue magazine, he began photographing different people working on the Parisian streets. When he got back to New York, he continued this series and later on expanded to London. Part of the allure of this collection is that save for the captions and other tell-tale signs, the portraits are homogeneous; it's as if all the subjects worked in the same giant city.


Unlike the previous works of Hine and the Salgado, these photographs were taken in the studio, in the signature look of Mr. Penn; black-and-white with a single large light source coming from one side. Often times, this was natural light coming from a skylight above and windows to the side.

You would think that taken out of their comfort zone (their work place) and placed in a photographer's studio that these people would look rather uncomfortable. On the contrary, armed with their working tools or simply dressed in their uniform, they look confidently into the camera. It becomes quite clear that these men and women are proud not only to be in their respective vocations but also to be photographed as a representative of their livelihood as well.
 

This poise and self-respect is probably why Mr. Penn continued to photograph over a 250 of these workers. Instead of feeling sorry for them in their small trade, viewers can sense the quite pride that they have for their chosen profession.

These are the people that you would normally interact with for only a few minutes or even a few seconds in any given day, yet their simple acts of service or the products they sell all help to move and give life to the city that they live in. From the classiest restaurants to the less enchanting abattoirs, all of these men and women contribute to society, and they want you to know that they are proud of that fact.


Here is a short New York Times audio slide show and article on Irving Penn's Small Trades which were made to coincide with the 2009 exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum. You can get the book Irving Penn: Small Trades or Mr. Penn's other works: Still Life : Irving Penn Photographs, 1938-2000, Irving Penn Portraits, and A Notebook at Random.





48 comments:

Colin Biano said...

i really like the two group shots

R.C said...

Haha I love these. I had no idea chestnuts were good for the brain!

tissue rejection said...

Interesting post.

Astronomy Pirate said...

Awesome, even though they might be considered less by some people, these really are the professions that make the world work.

Electric Addict said...

they do look proud

Dejch said...

nice pictures.. true art

Speedy Ed said...

these are great pictures. I like the Hot Chestnut one... " Good for the Brain " haha

Intraman said...

great photos! the butchers are pretty scary

Jack said...

I always liked black and white photos, it leaves more to the imagination. Great stuff.

The Angry Lurker said...

Nice images but this statement made me laugh,"but those shouldn't dissuade you from the idea of manual labor or work in general", I've always tried to avoid it.

Generally Disgruntled said...

Too late, you already convinced me that manual labor sucks. Just kidding. Starting to think I should open a chestnut cart. That dude's got swag out the ass

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Weird. I am actually eating chestnuts right now.

-E- said...

don't think french "laborers" really count. it's kind of an oxymoron.

Namaste said...

nice pics

Fang said...

Nice portraits :3

duffboi said...

Awesome photographs. That's gotta be like the ultimate, pride in one's station, be whatever that may be.

fit4life said...

very good post! and good photography

D4 said...

Ah, but this is so nice. It's true, they seem proud, that's something that we see less of as time goes on. Through these photographs, they could live on as role models. Wonderful!

GoGoGoViral said...

I dig these pics bro, I'm going to be following for more.

Shutterbug said...

Great portraits! I hope one day I can take amazing portraits like that! :)

jblogger45 said...

Interesting!

CPH said...

Nice photos. Thanks for posting.

ThirteenCats said...

Those photos are beautiful, just amazing

Trolske said...

I like the 2 butchers with their knives.
And chestnuts are good for your brain? Did I miss something?

Dave said...

These black n whites are great. I liked the chestnut seller.

OatmealStout said...

I want some hot chestnuts!

Moobeat said...

interesting stuff.

An intellectual blog said...

I actually did some research on Irving penn when I was in highschool
good stuff

HiFi said...

Honest work and honest pay. Like it!

The Game Store Guy said...

These are strangely incredible. They are so simple, yet so magnificent. The subject matter is little more than a matter of work-clothes, and yet the lighting, the expression...it all reveals so much.

Elliot MacLeod-Michael said...

Does that guy in the overalls have a grappling hook? Awesome.

Jacob said...

@ OatmealStout:

Yea, I heard that their good for the brain^^

Stock Investing and Trading said...

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Jaccstev said...

Great set of pictures and they indeed portraying these workers in a beautiful light.

Solsby Kid said...

Great photo!

Spock said...

Fantastic posts. Loved your blog! Keep up the good work :)

Patti D. said...

awesome pictures, so strong and powerful!

Banacek said...

I need to eat more chestnuts...

thenitefalls said...

These black and white photos capture an emotion that can't be done in color!

DocStout said...

The clothes and poses are interesting, but that cart is amazing. Good finds.

randomer said...

Excellent photos, I haven't seen many shots like these focused on real people, it's quite nice.

Laughing Vault said...

cool photos :D i would like to make portrait like that

G said...

a great collection of photo's

Malkavian said...

Great pics man the style and pride of each person being photographed its awesome

daniel said...

Good post.

Necroticism said...

Chest Nuts, good for the brain! :D

Lhosreiff said...

Chestnuts are delicious.

pixel said...

would be interesting to see a modern day equivalent, doesn't seem like anyone takes pride in real work anymore

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