This summer, Irving Penn’s masterful Cigarettes series will be displayed in its entirety for the first time ever at Hamiltons Gallery, London. Although Penn is probably most renowned for his photographs of famous fashion models and iconic figures, he was also equally as accustomed to shooting various forms of still life – in this case, discarded cigarette butts found on the streets of New York in the early Seventies. By printing the Cigarettes using the Platinum palladium process, an extremely difficult and costly photographic technique, Penn advanced the status of these objects from unwanted garbage to treasured rarities.
Either arranged as singular objects or clustered in groups, the image composition remains relatively minimal, however the depth and density of the tone applied to these black and white shots highlight subtle details, features and textures which otherwise would go a miss.
All of Penn’s pictures are created with a great attention to detail and the extreme magnification applied here means this series is no exception; every burnt edge, rip and fold in the delicate paper is meticulously captured as are the stray strands of loose tobacco that sprout out at the butt ends like wiry whiskers.
Another focus is the branding that is stamped onto each cigarette; even after being smoked, stubbed out, stepped on and subsequently weathered in Manhattan’s gutters, the marks of Tobacco industry giants such as Marlboro, Camel and Chesterfield are still evidently fulfilling their intended commercial purpose.
All 26 photographs from the Cigarettes series are available to view now until 17 August at Hamiltons Gallery, 13 Carlos Place, London.