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A Small Glimpse of a Master at Work
A journal entry after a two-day fashion shoot for Issey Miyake's Fall collection at Irving Penn's Studio
This month, 25 years ago, I started an internship with photographer Irving Penn.
When I was 17 and studying Communication Arts at De La Salle University in Manila, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of photography books at the library attached to the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center. I was like a kid in a candy store discovering all these amazing photographers like Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, W. Eugene Smith, and Alfred Stieglitz. My brain was a sponge and I couldn't get enough of it. It was then that the idea of working for a master photographer one day popped into my head. At the time, it seemed like a crazy idea, so I kept it to myself and never told anyone about it.
I was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. My parents worked in the banking industry. My dad was a corporate lawyer and my mom was an accountant. They're both retired now. My family expected my siblings and me to follow in their footsteps or pursue traditional careers, like medicine or engineering. But, I always felt different and knew that I wanted to explore my artistic inclinations.
I don't remember the context but my father used to tell me, “Impossible dream, anak!” (Anak means child in Tagalog). He was referencing the song by Frank Sinatra. I was never certain whether he meant it as a joke or if it was his way of giving encouragement. Maybe both.
For a long time, fear held me back. It took plenty of encouragement and pep talks to finally take the leap. I was terrified when I decided to take that first step, but once I did, I knew it was the right decision. I felt at peace.
If you have a dream that you're keeping to yourself, this post is for you. It's never too late. Take that first step.
The impossible can become possible.
June 5, 1998, New York City.
Journal entry after a two-day fashion shoot for Issey Miyake’s Fall collection at Irving Penn’s studio.
Perhaps I can say that I was part of a historic collaboration between Irving Penn and Issey Miyake. The interdependence between these two artists is one of envy. Miyake creates and Penn interprets- both freely and trusting of each other’s vision. The images that Mr. Penn captures on film pay respect to Miyake’s clothes. The space composition, lighting, and model’s gestures accentuate the beauty, uniqueness, and artistry of Mr. Miyake.
Never once did Mr. Miyake visit New York when Mr. Penn photographs his collection. He gives him ABSOLUTE freedom and trust. The relationship between these two men is simply admirable. Perhaps Mark Holborn in his introduction to Penn’s upcoming book, “Irving Penn Regards the Work of Issey Miyake” aptly describes this collaboration.
Seeing a master at work is, no doubt, an incredible experience. Being around him during those two days was awe-inspiring. He had a presence–he had a commanding presence, ever so respectful to every person that was part of the shoot. Penn is simply an observer–he never stops thinking…he is constantly fascinated and interested… his focus and drive are so intense yet, he’s equally subdued.
There’s stillness in a Penn shoot. 10-15 people are on set yet all you hear is Mr. Penn—directing and the shutter clicking. He looks at her from head to toe, every detail mentally noted. He gestures to follow his fingers with her eyes—first going right then to the left. He motions for her to straighten up, putting both hands on his chest then one hand sliding up his neck. He knows what image he wants to capture yet he has room for the unexpected—
“Stay there- that’s lovely,” He would always say when he suddenly finds the right moment.
“Yes- there! Hold, please”
“Let’s start from scratch.”
After every shoot, Mr. Penn claps and everyone joins him. “Thank you!” he says to the model. He smiles and then retreats to his office.
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Visual Dialogue: Irving Penn and Issey Miyake
Anna Wintour talks about working with Irving Penn (4:01-15:38)
Aperture Magazine: How Irving Penn and Issey Miyake Redefined the Fashion Photograph
Design Boom: Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: A Visual Dialogue