Teaching with Irving Penn’s Photography

Posted by Speakeasy News > Thursday 07 September 2017 > Webpicks

The Irving Penn exhibition opening at Paris's Grand Palais was shown in New York's Metropolitan Museum this spring. The Met's site has interesting videos and audio guides in English made to accompany the exhibition and which are useful teaching tools.

The Grand Palais site has a teaching pack you can download giving you background information (in French) about Penn and his work. You can see many of Penn's photos on his foundation site.

There are special guided visits for classes in English (all levels) in collaboration with the Mona Bismarck American Center.
9 and 16 November, 21 December
You can sign up here.


The trailer for the exhibition gives a really good overview of the variety of Penn's work, from fashion to celebrity portraits, to ethnological photos of different nationalities or groups of workers and still life images including a series of cigarette ends. Usable from A2+ (general comprehension), and the visuals are very rich.

Pupils these days are very familiar with photo editing techniques, using filters and adjusting exposures before they post them on Snapchat or other social media. They should be able to recognise Penn using similar techniques manually, and the four prints of the same portrait shown in the video is an excellent, natural opportunity to verbally compare and contrast. From B1.

The Met site also has a whole series of audio guides, which can be used as you go round the exhibition but are also ideal for the classroom. They are all around 2mn to 2'30". They are very clear but quite sophisticated, so are suitable for B1 and above depending on the track. This one about taking a portrait of Marlene Dietrich has interesting food for thought about how we present ourselves to the world.