Small Trades


Platinum-palladium print

50 x 34.5 cm (19 11/16 x 13 9/16 in.)

After becoming famous as a celebrity portrait photographer and a fashion photographer, Irving Penn dedicated himself in the early 1950s to a series entitled Small Trades, photographing the humblest professions with simplicity and empathy, from Paris to New York to London.

Proceeding methodically, the photographer would invite his subjects to his studio dressed just in their work clothes and carrying their tools, with the awareness of their social position doing the rest. Against a neutral grey background, the coal supplier, the street sweeper and the fire fighter are put on an equal level. Centred in the photograph, the subjects stand out all the more powerfully thanks to the high contrast of the chiaroscuro lighting. This monumental oeuvre, both artistic and sociological, echoes Hommes du XXe siècle, August Sander’s photographic work dedicated to Germany in the period between the two world wars.

The photographs of the Small Trades series acquired by the Pinault Collection were presented at the 2015-2016 “Irving Penn, Resonance” exhibition held at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice.