Irving Penn initially set out to be a sort of graphic designer. He studied drawing, painting, graphics, and industrial arts. After art school he worked for Harper’s Bazaar, who published several of his drawings. Working as a freelance designer, Penn created advertising for Sax 5th Avenue. Eventually, he ended up in the art department at Vogue magazine. Penn worked on the layout of the magazine, but was asked to try his hand at photography.
Penn's first cover photo for Vogue appeared in 1943 and he continued to produce work for the magazine throughout his career, including covers, portraits, still lifes, fashion, and photographic essays.
Penn developed a clean and modern aesthetic. He had the ability to make cigarette butts look beautiful. His influence on the look of beauty and fashion photography can be seen in magazines today. In addition to his beauty and fashion photography, he created portraits of many of the creative giants of the time, portraits of people from all over the world and fantastic still lifes.