On the 100th anniversary of Penn’s birth, this exhibition of 240 works is drawn from a major retrospective at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. Over two floors at C/O, his 70-year career is expansively celebrated in portraits, still life, fashion, travel, art and street photography. Penn’s early American Vogue portraits, with sitters such as Marcel Duchamp and Spencer Tracy crammed into his experimental corner backdrop, show his expert eye in capturing an unguarded moment. The fashion portraits are exquisite exercises in symmetry, style and elegance, exactly what you would expect from one of the 1940s and 50s top fashion photographers. His art photographs include numerous nudes, all headless female torsos. These sadly fall flat, bringing to mind only a bland version of Bill Brandt. The text claims Penn made them in reaction to his daily diet of “skinny girls with self-starved looks”, presumably including his own wife, supermodel Lisa Fonssagrives. Similarly, Penn’s travel photographs are uncomfortably objectifying: a film shot in Morocco by Fonssagrives shows him rather brusquely arranging shrouded Berber women and men into his trademark fashion compositions. A comprehensive show, but possibly guilty of some unchecked hero worship inherited from the Met’s original curation.
Through Jul 1