Worlds in a Small Room

"I share with many people the feeling that there is a sweetness and constancy to light that falls into a studio from the north sky that sets it beyond any other illumination. It is a light of such penetrating clarity that even a simple object lying by chance in such a light takes on an inner glow, almost a voluptuousness. This cold north light has a quality which painters have always admired, and which the early studio photographers made the fullest use of. It is this light that makes some of these early studio portraits sing with an intensity not bettered by later photographers with more sophisticated means at hand. Electric lights are a convenience, but they are used, I believe, at the expense of that simple three-dimensional clarity, that absolute existence that a subject has standing before a camera in a north-light studio.

In my early years as a photographer, confined to an enclosed windowless area working in a New York office building, even here were electric light banks to simulate the light of the sky…. In this confinement I would often daydream of being mysteriously deposed in my ideal north-light studio among the disappearing aborigines of course in remote parts of the earth."

 - Irving Penn