Penn started to photograph flowers in 1967 after being commissioned by Vogue USA to illustrate their Christmas edition with images of tulips. This became the first of seven issues which Penn would illustrate with different genera of flowers. The photographs were collectively published as a book, ‘Flowers’, published in 1980. Penn later revisited the idea of flowers in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, using flowers as a metophor for his older age and the beauty which can be found in the expiring bloom.
In total, Mr. Penn editioned 42 different images of flowers throughout his lifetime. All 42 were exhibited for the first and so far only time in 2015 at Hamiltons Gallery, at which point Hamiltons and The Irving Penn Foundation published a catalogue raisonné of the series as well.
David Campany, who wrote the essay for this publication, writes of these pictures:
“Each flower was entirely individual, and when two or more appeared in the same photograph they only served to heighten one another’s particulars. Penn was not looking for examples that were representative of their species, nor compiling a botanical guidebook or taxonomy. Each photograph is a unique encounter with a unique thing in all its unsettling wonder.”