In the 1990s, Irving Penn began experimenting with light. Moving a motorized fresnel stage light equipped with a narrow aperture across a subject over a long exposure time, he created a unique expression of the subject in which any movement resulted in a distortion of the image in the final print. This is easily visible in the still life Wide Skull (1993), where Penn or an assistant turned the skull to each side during the exposure to achieve the amorphous effect.
In order to make these images,1 Penn used a 12 x 20 inch view camera modified for rapid focus shifts, a technique he applied to other genres including fashion and still life; for portraits, he used an 8 x 10 inch camera.
1 Irving Penn. A Notebook at Random. Bulfinch Press, New York, 2004, p. 39.
Irving Penn. Wide Skull (A), 1993. Gift of Irving Penn. 1996.181.