Irving Penn’s story begins in the 1930s, and it opens in spareness, austerity, a skilful use of economy of means, traits that would be forever associated with the Penn portrait. Pared back to their essentials, that is how Penn’s subjects always look when they are photographed in his studio. The studio setting itself is usually pared back too. There’s almost a sense of visual drought. Everything is in monochrome, from first to last. The walls look a drab, hazy, pocky grey; the floors have bits of threads adhering to them. The lighting is never fussy or stagy or glarey. It is either daylight or simulated daylight. There are scarcely any props. Rather than using a table for his sitters to sit at he would throw a length of carpet over a plinth, and let his subjects lean or lounge against it, or settle into it like swimmers beached among the waves. Or he would take a couple of theatre flats and enclose his sitters within them, as if they are being squeezed by two enclosing walls. So there is no glamour about the context, no baroque extravagance, nothing to distract from the matter in hand, which is, from beginning to end: dissection of character. This striking portrait of Al Pacino, the actor seems to be pinioning, almost skewering, us with his gaze. Our entire focus is drawn to his eyes.