A note on print types
Irving Penn’s photographic work can be divided between gelatin silver prints, platinum-palladium prints, and color prints of various types. Some images exist in all three, as is the case with Still Life with Food, a color image from 1947 which is titled New York Still Life in black and white.
The photograph originally appeared in Vogue to illustrate the imported delicacies available in select New York shops. Presented as ingredients for a party, Penn arranged the composition in the manner of a Dutch still life. A gelatin silver print was used for reproduction in the magazine for the July 1, 1947 issue.
The color variant shown here is a silver dye bleach print, a positive-to-positive process known for its vivid color, sharpness, clarity, and resistance to fading. Amidst the photograph’s delicate balance of color, rich hues and warm light, the unexpected element of the black beetle on the sack of corn appears all the more striking.
Beginning in the 1960s, Penn conducted extensive experiments to revive the nineteenth-century platinum print process. His practice involved meticulously coating fine arts papers by hand with light-sensitive solutions of platinum and palladium metals. For this, he revisited many of his earlier negatives, enlarging them to make contact prints up to 22 x 28 inches. The platinum-palladium edition of New York Still Life renders the warmth and detail present in the silver and color editions.