“In my early years as a photographer, confined to an enclosed windowless area working in a New York office building… I would often daydream of being mysteriously deposed in my ideal studio among the disappearing aborigines of course in remote parts of the earth. In my phantasies [sic] these remarkable strangers would come to me and place themselves in front of my camera and in the clear north sky light I would make records of their physical presence, pictures that would survive us both and at least to the extent something of their already disappearing cultures would be forever preserved.” *
Though he earned his living in the glamorous world of commercial photography, Irving Penn’s primary artistic passion lay in the ethnographic realm. The Cuzco series was shot in between assignments for Vogue in 1948. He rented a small studio from a local photographer furnished simply with a painted curtain, which he used as a backdrop, and naturally lit from the sunlight that filtered in from the north facing windows. Penn paid rural Peruvians to sit as his subjects. However, instead of capturing them in their natural circumstances, he instead chose to highlight them against the neutral backdrop of his studio. Using the same minimal and stark approach characteristic of his fashion photography, Penn focused on his sitter’s traditional clothing, accentuating the various organic textures and design. Yet his direct style of photography manages to delve much deeper underneath this superficial layer, revealing nuanced social and familial relationships and exposing the dignity of a culture otherwise unfamiliar- forcing the viewer to confront them on an intimate and personal level.
Freeman's is proud to offer a number of these photographs as part of The Forbes Collections on December 14, 2016.