Treating photos with dignity

I’d like to share with you the work of the greatest fashion photographer of all time (Irving Penn), with some shots taken in the greatest city of all time (Paris) exhibited in without-a-doubt my favorite museum of all time (John Paul Getty Museum).

To commemorate the work of Penn, who died last week at the age of 92, the New York Times chronicled part of Penn’s 252-piece series, which the Getty Museum acquired in 2008 in its entirety, through an audio slideshow. The soundslide is unassuming, simple and methodical. His striking, full-length portraits don’t compete with bold colors or text.

When I’ve created shows in the past, caption viewing is always optional. When captions are toggled, however, I’ve opted for them to pop up from the bottom of the image and briefly cover it. This aesthetic definitely wouldn’t do when paying homage to a great American photographer, when even a slight disfigurement of an original work is a heinous act. I have to ask: Since when is it OK for me to cover my images? I certainly lack the fame and notoriety, but this practice gets in the way of the story, it inhibits full appreciation and understanding of the photo.

I don’t aspire to win a Pulitzer, I don’t dream of sitting at a Washington Post copy desk, and I certainly never expect to rub shoulders with the Manhattan elite (should I even compare those things?) Penn’s series reminds me that one needn’t travel far to meet interesting people or to tell great stories.


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