Saul Steinberg In Nose Mask, New York, 1966, left,
Paper Cup with Shadow, New York, 1975 © Irving Penn

On hearing of Irving Penn's death, I sat down with Passage, one of my favorite photo books. I was thinking I'd determine my favorite Irving Penn portrait, and post it here - a silly and impossible task, I soon realized. I think what I love about his work, both the portraiture and still life, is that there's such a straightforward and graphic approach to his image-making, and yet the content is always quite powerful. I often think it must be easier to make portraits of the famous and recognizable in our society, but Penn's pictures seem incredibly honest to me. From what I can tell, he approached Tom Wolfe and Pablo Picasso with the same care as he did a Parisian balloon seller or a Moroccan shepherdess. Or ginko leaves and found cigarettes, for that matter.

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