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Phil Penman comes from a tranquil corner in the county of Dorset. Today he works as a freelance street photographer in New York. It is not an overly lucrative job, but as long as he can fulfil his dream he is not in the slightest bit concerned.

Read the full article in LFI 3/2016.

You have decided after a while not longer to work as a people photographer with a contract but to work freelance. How did it come to that and has it been the right decision for you?

Going freelance was the best decision I ever made! Working as a staffer for a large photographic agency was great for that time of my life and I cannot thank the bosses I had enough for the opportunities I was given. I remember chatting on the phone from the UK, before starting my new job. My new boss was telling me about all the travel I was going to do. As you can imagine this life was not to welcoming to having relationships and I rarely ever got to see my apartment as I just lived out of a bag on the road for the most part. Eventually I knew this life had to end so I made the jump to go freelance. I did not want to spend the rest of my life on planes.

Your city-landscapes are composed in a very balanced way and convey a certain, specific mood. What do you try to capture?

I have always had a love affair with New York and the architecture in the City. I like to keep things timeless. If I could go back to the 50’s and shoot that would be my dream. Normally I will see something of interest, be it a ray of light hitting the side of a building or some interesting shadows and just play around with it. I’ll tend to go out when I know the light is nice, or its a really foggy day that will add to the atmosphere I am looking for. Landscape photography has always been of interest to me but I always try to incorporate a human element into the shot as well to give it scale. I’ve always been drawn to New Yorkers! They have so much character and its not like they are even trying its just who they are. You can tell when someone is trying to hard. Usually I know I have found the right one because they are shocked that I want to do their portrait. 

How important is the right camera for you and how would you define its characteristics?

I like my camera to be simple without to many bells and whistles. I really could careless about if the camera can shoot 14 frames a second or go over a 100,000 ISO. Most of my work is shot at 100 ISO even at night. I will prop myself up drop the shutter to as slow as half a second and just shoot away and hope that one is sharp. I’ve nothing against grainy images but feel it has to be used for effect. The Leica M240 I use is just a simple beautiful camera which I swear I have not used half the features on it yet. The Leica lenses I cannot say enough good things about, they are simply perfect! 

Which direction in your work would you like to take in the future - and what for you is the „perfect picture“?

I've been shooting a lot more celebrity portraiture these days. Its funny when I shoot them with the Leica. Most of the time they expect a big old Canon or Nikon camera and most ask what is that tiny black camera. On a recent shoot with celebrity chef Paula Dean her assistant actually turned around and said “Holy shit, thats a Leica! This guy is definitely not fucking around.” As for the perfect picture ? I’m still working on it. I will let you know when I think I have it.

Phil Penman

New York photographer Phil Penman has specialized in portraits of renown personalities like Bill Gates or Jennifer Lopez. In addition to being published in well-known magazines such as Time and Newsweek, Penman is the photographer for Chalet magazine. Appearing four times a year, the magazine focusses on modern bicycle culture around the world, and in New York in particular.

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