In his early studio work for Vogue, Irving Penn frequently used large format Deardorff view cameras (including a 4-by-5-inch and an 8-by-10-inch model) to photograph still lifes, portraits, and fashion.
The view camera features a flexible bellows between the lens and the film stage, often with arms that controlled the bellows' rise, fall, tilt, and swing. These movements control the effect of light on the film, which in turn allowed Penn to adjust image sharpness and depth of field depending on the lens he was using. View cameras typically use a large format sheet film, producing one or two frames per negative.
In 1979, Penn acquired a banquet camera, a horizontally oriented large format view camera that had been popular in the early twentieth century for taking group portraits. After many years of working with smaller view cameras, the banquet camera's 12-by-20-inch negatives were significantly larger than anything with which Penn had worked previously, yet its rectangular shape mimicked that of a double-page spread, the gold standard in magazine and advertising photography. Penn used the banquet camera Penn for a series of vanitas still life photographs (1979/80). Because the camera used 12-by-20-inch negatives, Penn was able to contact print the negatives in platinum without enlarging them first.
Penn and his assistants also experimented with making their own view cameras in the mid-1990s, which they used to take color photographs of street debris in situ.
Irving Penn. Theater Accident, New York, 1947. Gift of Irving Penn, 1996.226.