Irving Penn was born on June 16, 1917, in New Jersey. He belonged to a Russian Jewish family and was the son of Harry Penn and Sonia Greenberg.
Penn also had a younger brother, Arthur Penn, who wanted to become a film director and producer.
From 1934 to 1938, Penn attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, where he studied drawing, painting, graphics, and industrial arts under the guidance of Alexey Brodovitch. During his student life, Penn worked under Brodovitch at Harper’s Bazaar which published some of the most interesting drawings made by Penn.
For two years, Penn worked as a freelance designer. In 1940, he made his first amateur photographs before taking Brodovitch’s position as the art director at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Penn stayed at Saks Fifth Avenue for a year and then left for Mexico and across the US. There spent a year painting and taking photographs. When he returned to New York, Alexander Liberman offered him a position as an associate in the Vogue magazine Art Department, which he whole-heartedly accepted. Penn worked on the layout for the magazine until Liberman advised him to try photography.
Irving Penn’s very first photographic cover for Vogue magazine was published in October 1943.
During the same period, the art department of the Office of War Information in London offered Penn a job as an artist-photographer. However, he refused the proposal and volunteered with the American Field Service instead. After his transfer to India in 1954, he clicked photos of medical operations of the AFS. He also went on to photograph many other subjects post that.
Throughout his career, Penn continued to work at Vogue, photographing covers, portraits, still lives, fashion, and photographic essays.
He started his own studio in New York started creating advertising photographs. Penn is remembered for his fashion photography. Penn’s collection includes portraits of creative greats, ethnographic photographs from the globe, as well as photographic travel essays.