In 1948, Penn started making portraits of individuals in a small corner space made out of two studio flats pushed together. The resulting images became some of his most recognised works. The people he would photograph often felt at ease in that corner, with Penn himself reminiscing that “The confinement, surprisingly seemed to comfort people, soothing them. The walls were a surface to lean on or push against. For me the picture possibilities were interesting: limiting the subjects’ movement seemed to relieve me of part of the problem of holding on to them”. But not everyone acted in the same manor, and each corner portrait is a glimpse into the personality and confidence of the sitter.
Penn photographed many writers, dancers, artists and political figures for his ‘Corner Portraits’ series, such as Marcel Duchamp, Duke Ellington, the Duchess of Windsor and Truman Capote. Each time, the figure is completely isolated, compressed into a clustered space. By photographing the rich and famous in such a way, Penn creates an emphasis on the existential meaning of individuality in an abstract world.