Phil Penman is a New York photographer, with over 25 years experience. He specialized in street photography, but he also does photojournalism and celebrity photography. In this interview, I got to know more about his work and his vision on photography and photographing.
How did you get started in photography?
My father was a big influence. He was also a photographer, so I learnt a great deal from him in the darkroom. I then went onto College where I did an A Level and then a Diploma in photography. This was my formal training but I learnt most of my skills on the job.
Do you think one needs formal training to succeed?
It’s not necessary , however it depends on what you plan to do in photography. If you plan on going into the art world / galleries then a degree maybe a requirement. For getting a job in photography it does help to learn the ropes. Working as an assistant or perhaps at a local paper is great experience. I learnt a lot as a press photographer working for local papers and agencies.
Being able to adapt is the key!
Why did you settle in street photography?
Street is where my heart is. I still shoot commercial work and news however. Again being able to adapt, you never know whats going to happen in photography. Being able to shoot everything and anything is valuable. Also never turn your nose up at different types of work or photographers. Celebrity photographers often get a bad reputation but they are some of the best photographers I’ve been lucky enough to learn from.
What traits must a good street photographer have?
An outgoing personality is good to have. You need to be able to find common ground with everyone as you’ll most likely be photographing all walks of life.
Do not be afraid of rejection and try different things, we live in a digital world and have the beauty of being able to experiment with our creativity.
What magic element does New York have for so many artists?
I think every city has its own beauty. New York certainly holds a special place in my heart. You never know whats around the corner. One minute you are walking along one of the richest streets in the city, you turn a corner, and you see a man walking a turkey. Its humanity in finest form!
Tell us a bit about your book, “Street”.
“Street” is 20 years of my life working as a celebrity / street photographer in New York. It’s my homage to the city I love. The book itself took about 1 year to put together with the help of some great people to assist me.
You cannot do this on your own. You need an outside set of eyes. We become very emotionally attached to our own work. Sometimes we are too attached and what is interesting to us might not relate to the viewer.
What advice do you have for someone making a start in photography?
Be yourself, get creative and just get out there and shoot. Photography is a beautiful thing, it can remove us from what’s going on in our lives, and allows us to live adventures that we might not have done.