Three little spectators at an afternoon dance at company headquarters in Italy. Photograph by Irving Penn. Courtesy of the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives.) This image cannot be reproduced outside the guidelines of United States Fair Use (17 U.S.C., Section 107) without advance permission from the AFS Archives.

Irving Penn, one of the most celebrated photographers of the last half of the twentieth century, was 27 years old and a photographer for Vogue when he volunteered with AFS in August 1944. He was sent to Italy and India, and served as an AFS ambulance driver and staff photographer between November 1944 and November 1945. During his time overseas, Penn took hundreds of photographs depicting the life and work of the AFS volunteers during the war. His photographs were often posed rather than candid, and included places and individuals the AFSers encountered during their service (including three little Italian girls peeking in on an AFS dance in 1945, depicted in the photograph above.)

On April 24, 2017, the major retrospective exhibition Irving Penn: Centennial opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibition marks the centennial of Penn’s birth, and features various photography series from throughout his more than six-decade career. According to the exhibition’s curators, Penn’s service in Italy and India with AFS during World War II inspired him to expand that experience and photograph people from around the globe.

You can read more about Irving Penn’s experience with AFS in the cover story of the January 2010 issue of the AFS Janus! To learn more about about Penn’s post-war work, visit The Met’s exhibition website.

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