" Rules Are There to Be Broken" - Phil Penman

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1. Tell us about your background and journey.

Originally from a small village in the county of Dorset in the United Kingdom. Largely a farming community made up of about 360 inhabitants. This is a far cry from New York where I have lived for the past 20 years.

The journey started with a trip to New York at 16 years old. I was heavily influenced by hip hop music and fashion and fell in love with the city.

I spent the next few years studying photography in the UK at the Berkshire College of Art and Design, then working for local papers and news agencies shooting everything from breaking news to corporate work for the likes of Microsoft.

One late night on a news stakeout, a fellow photographer mentioned that US-based Splash News Photo Agency was hiring. I made the call and within 2 months I was off to Los Angeles.

The job was a huge shock to the system. Before I was covering local news, now I was covering the biggest news stories and celebrities. Within 6 months the agency asked if I would like to help set up their New York bureau.

I was never a fan of LA so I jumped at the opportunity. For over 20 years now I’ve been fortunate enough to be working and doing the thing I love in the City I had set my heart on as a teenager.

I’ve shot portraits with the likes of Bill Gates, Spike Lee, and Christopher Reeve. Covered the 9/11 attacks in New York as well as the COVID 19 Pandemic. Recently I published “STREET” a book chronicling my career as a street photographer.

2. How and when did you realize your passion for photography?

I got hooked straight away, my father is a photographer, so I grew up watching him in the darkroom. It’s very addictive. I would often go through the night printing black and white images.

Photography influenced me because it showed me to nature and all walks of life.

Because you are always waiting for the perfect light or want to know more about a certain community or profession, you get to experience things others might not.

3. What are some tips you would like to share with amateur photographers?

Just enjoy it. Photography is a very hard profession and requires 100 percent commitment and drive to make it. Everyone has a camera now!

With the invention of social media apps like Instagram, we have seen a change in photography. There is more content out there, but I personally feel that because we are all on the quest to be liked it's driven down the levels of creativity. I’m seeing more and more that photographers are copying each other because they see the kind of work that gets attention.
It’s for this reason that its more important than ever to find your own voice! Shoot what you want, and show it off in the most professional way you can.

Experiment with different angles of the same scene. This is a trick you learn as a news photographer, the editor always wants options. So, by trying this you might learn a new trick you had never thought of.

Rules are there to be broken. If we followed all the rules we would never progress and discover new things.

4. What are the important skills one should have to be a successful photographer?

Marketing, marketing, marketing!

We used to have agents who represented photographers. Now you are the agent. Nobody is going to work harder than you to make you a successful photographer. You have to not be afraid to talk about your own work.

Learn new skills such as website design, video, social media, and branding. Having a great photograph is nice but you now need to present it to the world.

5. What are the various opportunities available for aspiring photographers?

I’m not going to lie and say that it is easy, it’s now harder than ever to make it.

I think if you stay true to your own vision, people will see this, now more than ever you need to stand out from the crowd. Because of all the social media platforms and the way brands want to get their message out there, I’ve seen more opportunities for creatives who can present a complete package to a brand, especially in the influencer market.

The one important thing I discovered was you have to just do what you love. Life is short. 

I personally suffered burn out doing photography I did not enjoy. I had to take a hard look at whether I just wanted the money, or be happy doing something I love.

6. Which is your favorite book and why?

Sebastiào Salgado, Workers. For me, he is the greatest living photographer today.

- Phil Penman, Photographer
- Interviewed by Shilpy Sharan

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