Irving Penn: Reflections on a Favorite Lamp

Irving Penn: Reflections on a Favorite Lamp

Heather Blaha
Jul 3, 2007

Vogue's July '07 issue brings us an engaging portfolio from "The Mighty Penn," a.k.a. Irving Penn, who recently turned 90 and continues to be a living photography legend. In the piece celebrating Penn, the writer begins with a firsthand account describing the lamp that would go on to be one of the loves of his life:

"I was coming to work at the old Vogue studio, and I passed a junk shop on Third Avenue. It was a very long time ago - 1942, perhaps...This lamp was on the sidewalk. I was very taken with it, and the guy wanted to be rid of it. It cost nothing - a few cents, not even dollars. I carried it home with me. It's brass and has a very old-fashioned look."

His housekeeper is told never to polish it; and if it catches a little dust, that only makes the reflection more interesting. "It's the simplest kind of construction. When the bulb burns out, you get another. If I'm in bed, it's always next to me. It's a warm light, and somewhat warm in giving off heat. It's a wonderful thing."

The lamp is one object that Penn has never parted with. The stories that unfold in this article all sneak in mention of this prized lamp: how it's always on the left side of the bed (his side); how the dog would move near it when he was cold; how it was the first household item he set up each time he moved apartments.

What object can you equate with Penn's lamp in your own life? (We'd be hardpressed to pick just one...)

(- Excerpt from The Mighty Penn by Kennedy Fraser, July 2007 issue of Vogue); Image: cover shot, June 1950 by Irving Penn)

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