Crete by Irving Penn, 1964

Irving Penn began his work with Vogue magazine in 1943 and continued to contribute for many more decades to come. For Vogue, he would set his striking fashion photography and portraits at off-the-beaten-track locales.

In 1963, Penn had considered going to Turkey, but owing to political instability caused by conflict in Cyprus, he instead scouted locations on other Mediterranean islands. He determined that Crete’s Lasithi plateau, with its traditional way of life and hundreds of grain-grinding windmills, had great potential for a Vogue story.

The Lasithi had been settled since the Neolithic times (around 6000 BC), and had been continuously inhabited since the Minoan and Dorian times (except for a brief period during the Venetian occupation of Crete). The Psychro Cave there was considered to be the birthplace of Zeus ​​. More recently, it had played a role as hideout for fighters during the Greek War of Independence as well as the Axis occupation of Greece in World War II.

Penn made detailed notes of people, churches, foods, and landscapes, times of day for best light, and where a portable studio might be useful and returned the following year in 1964 with his assistant Gordon Munro. They rented out an almost-completed garage with north-facing bays for a studio, getting a plasterer to finish the wall they would use as a backdrop and “a kid to throw buckets of water on it every so often to make it mottled.” Thus, it replicated an old theater curtain Penn had in mind and used previously in Paris.

The resulting photoessay, filled with black-and-white portraits of “indomitable matriarchs” and “mountain men with deeply lined faces” appeared in Vogue (January 15, 1965 issue), the elders who seem like relicts from biblical times, the magazine noted.

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