Irving Penn worked across a variety of genres in commercial assignments and artistic pursuits throughout his long career. Each theme essay presents an overview of his work in that area, points to relationships between his commercial and artistic projects, and describes relevant material in the Irving Penn Paper and Photographic Archives.

Penn began taking advertising photographs in 1952 and worked for notable campaigns, such as for General Foods and Clinique, throughout the rest of career.

Ethnographic Studies
Primarily on assignment for magazines, Penn worked on a variety of what he called ethnographic projects, photographing individuals in neutral studio settings in the United States and around the world.

Penn was one of the first photographers to pose models against a sparse background, and his photographs of the 1950 Paris Collections with such settings are some of his most iconic. Penn continued to focus intensely on the technical aspects of garments in his fashion photographs throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s, Penn collaborated closely with Japanese designer Issey Miyake.

From summer 1949 through January 1950, Penn photographed and printed a series of nudes, his first independent artistic project since becoming a commercial photographer. These photographs went largely unseen until 1980.

Penn took penetrating portraits of the cultural elite for Vogue magazine beginning in the mid-1940s, and continued to make portraits for the magazine until 2008.

Still Lifes
Penn's first Vogue photographic cover was a still life, a genre that he pursued in magazine work throughout his career. Beginning in the 1970s, Penn worked on still life projects independently of his magazine work as well.

Street and Travel Photography
Immediately following his graduation from art school, Penn began to take street photographs in New York City. In his commercial career, he frequently received travel essay assignments from Vogue and Look magazines until reader tastes changed in the mid-1960s.

Book Projects
Penn published his first book, Moments Preserved, in 1960. He continued to publish books of his magazine work and personal artistic projects throughout his career, producing a total of 12 during his lifetime.