Over the course of seven decades, Irving Penn did much to dismantle what was once thought to be a rigid barricade between fine-art and commercial photography, setting a precedent of mobility among diverse photographic contexts. Along with his colleague Richard Avedon, Penn elevated fashion photography to the highest levels of aesthetic ambition and refinement (though his work has seemed, at times and to a newer generation, as the embodiment of the historical canon). His eye was promiscuous and restless. Although his sensibility was rooted in the still life, his work straddled many photographic genresportraiture, street photography, fashion, and advertisingand by rejecting the protocols of photographic typologies, he created original hybrids and fusions within a still-segregated medium. That this body of work, patronized by the brilliant art director Alexander Liberman,
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