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Photo Synthesis

Hell's Angels, San Francisco (1967)

October 01, 2006|Colin Westerbeck

A platinum-palladium print of Penn's image will be included in the fall auction preview at Christie's Beverly Hills Oct. 3-6.

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Conde Nast, the parent company of Vogue, still provides a full-time studio for Irving Penn because the fashion magazine publishes new work by him regularly. Now approaching his 90th birthday, Penn has photographed for Vogue continuously since 1943. This longevity is the result of an equilibrium Penn has maintained throughout his career. To balance the fickle worlds of celebrity portraiture and fashion photography, he has also made pictures of anonymous people wearing their everyday clothes.

The portrait above is of this sort. Warehouse space was rented as a studio because reinforced floors were needed to support the no-seam that Penn wanted. A no-seam is a curved surface from the studio wall to the floor that eliminates the right angle at which the two meet. Its purpose is to make the photograph's background neutral and indefinite. Though usually cloth or paper, Penn wanted this one to be poured concrete so his subjects could park their motorcycles on it.

The Hells Angels were not a fun group. They demanded a considerable fee for the privilege of being immortalized by Penn. "They were like coiled springs ready to fly loose," he recalled. An unexpected benefit was that the concrete no-seam later served as a perfect setting on which to photograph a nude dance troupe.

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