Photographer Irving Penn was born into a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in New Jersey, USA on 16 June 1917. He studied at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts (1934–38) and under Russian émigré Alexey Brodovitch learned the principles of modern art and design through media including magazines, exhibitions, architecture, and photography. Afterwards, Penn worked as Brodovitch's assistant at Harper's Bazaar in New York, then, in 1941, travelled through the American South to Mexico to make paintings (later destroyed) taking photographs en route. In 1943, Vogue art director and Russian émigré Alexander Liberman, hired Penn as his associate and encouraged him to begin his own photographic career. After the Second World War, Penn rapidly developed a reputation for bold and innovative still lifes and portraiture, undertaking international portrait and fashion assignments. In 1950, in Paris, photographing haute couture collections for Vogue, he met Swedish fashion model Lisa Fonssagrives (1911-1992), whom he married in London in September 1950. During this period, Penn also photographed his ‘Small Trades’ project: ‘butchers, bakers, workmen, and eccentrics who belonged to a disappearing world’.

From 1964-71 he travelled widely for Vogue including to Japan, Europe and Africa, taking portraits of people in natural light. In the early 1960s, he championed a revival of earlier printing techniques, perfecting a complex process for printing in platinum and palladium metals. In the early 1970s, Penn closed his Manhattan studio (reopened 1983), moving to the family farm on Long Island, NY and producing three platinum series: Cigarettes (1972, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, 1975), Street Material (1975–76, shown at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1977), and Archaeology (1979–80, exhibited at Marlborough Gallery in 1982). A retrospective was held at The Museum of Modern Art, followed by an international tour until 1989. In his later years, he established The Irving Penn Foundation. Irving Penn died in New York, USA on 7 October 2009 at the age of 92. His work is in museum collections worldwide.