What I remember is the purity of the relationship of these young people and an innocence so different from today’s. As I look at these pictures, how the dancers touch each other, how they embrace [ . . . ] there’s a serenity that as a photographer I’m not used to. –Irving Penn, 1995
This exhibition will be dedicated to a rarely seen series of photographs by Irving Penn capturing the groundbreaking work of the American choreographer Anna Halprin. Taken in 1967, the carefully composed images are the result of Penn’s collaboration with the Dancers’ Workshop of San Francisco, which he photographed performing Halprin’s improvisational choreography The Bath. The group of fourteen photographs, which were printed for the first time in 1995, highlights Halprin’s pioneering approach to movement and reveals a more experimental side to Penn’s practice. They have not been shown together in Paris in over 25 years.
The summer of 1967 in San Francisco has become known as the ‘Summer of Love’. Young people converged on the city, drawn to its burgeoning counterculture that broke the taboos of American society, promoting community, altruism, mysticism and free love. Fascinated by the movement, Irving Penn travelled to the Bay Area the following September to document its participants with a series of group portraits to be published in Look magazine. He wanted, as he termed it, to ‘look into the faces of these new San Francisco people through a camera in a daylight studio, against a simple background, away from their own daily circumstances.’
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Dance was a recurring theme throughout Penn’s career. From his photographs of the American ballet companies in 1946, to his 1999 series capturing the movements of dancer and choreographer Alexandra Beller, the artist maintained an interest in new and avant-garde forms of performance. It is undoubtedly thanks to his affinity for the art form that Penn was able to capture The Bath with such acuteness. Where Halprin found that the photographs brought out the essence of her own work, Penn remarked that they gave him a sense of ‘serenity’, which he was, in his words, ‘not used to.’ The series, therefore represents a unique confluence between modern photography and postmodern dance and constitutes a rare document of the meeting of two artistic minds.