Irving Penn

Above: Cigarette 37 (1972) by Irving Penn. Credit: Christie's.


One photo on show at Christie's is by Irving Penn. In the 1970s Penn collected dog-ends of cigarettes from the streets of New York. He photographed them and printed x100 blow-ups. The small 1 cm high objects were printed and enlarged to 1 metre high. Photographing the forlorn--SOED: forsaken, bereft, abandoned, deserted, left alone, desolate--was what Benjamin claimed Atget was doing around Paris. Atget always passed by the famous sites and photographed instead whatever was "unremarked, forgotten, cast adrift." Irving Penn was also photographing the forlorn when he collected discarded cigarette ends and treated them forensically. Penn's dog-ends were photographed as if fragments of evidence. Evidence of life, or evidence of the urge to death--cigarette smoke is potentially lethal isn't it? Penn's dog-ends are examples of Benjamin's cast adrift-and-forgotten premise. They are objects that most just discard and forget about. Penn's dog-ends also demonstrate how photography has the power to aestheticize anything--no matter how seemingly banal and unpicturesque. The found object is an inconclusive fragment; it's a clue to solving a crime, but the crime itself is uncertain.

(5 March 2019)