Learning is a never ending cycle. From the moment one is born to the day they die, the learning process never ceases. The learning curve, as they say, is so called because it never flattens. Information and knowledge are but variables which alter the course of our life, and valuable are the people that help us learn and grow as a person.
Phil Penman is one such special individual who shares this belief, and is a strong advocate for learning and improving through each decision we make in our life. A renowned photographer, author and teacher, Phil has shot some of the most high profile names in popular culture from the likes of Bill Gates to Britney Spears. With experience spanning a vast twenty seven years, he has a monumental range of work. He has documented in the flesh the 9/11 terror attack and the immediate aftermath, as well as skimmed through cities amidst in the Covid-19 pandemic to paint a picture representing change and the dynamic nature of the world. His fondness for the ever changing characteristic of life has led him to be a passionate cityscape and street photographer.
With his cheerful tone and warm aura, Phil speaks about his experience in his signature happy-go-lucky manner and sheds light on the struggles of being a celebrity photographer, and the mercenary nature of clients. “I’d rather make 60 cents and enjoy it, capturing things I love, than wait for half a day for a decent click to earn the same amount,” he says. He stresses that no matter how much passion you have for photography, if you do not enjoy the work, it cannot be a sustainable source of income. This belief of his, led to him developing and nurturing his passion of street photography into a sizable work profile, which he craftily turned into income through proficient marketing.
“Know the value of your work. Do not undersell yourself.” Golden words from Phil himself. He hopes for these words to sink into the brains of all aspiring photographers. Marketing oneself and one’s work is of paramount importance. One must build a portfolio, be it through social media, or as in Phil’s case, a book. His book documenting his experiences through pictures received worldwide fame and made the shelves of the museum of modern art, New York City. In these digital times, finding the right people who are willing to buy your work, or to put you in the industry limelight is what should be the holy grail and the two non-negotiables that go into it are good content and good content curation. Seeing your work from an external perspective is key in order to analyse what could gain attention and sell. Phil used the analogy of Nike, who have a distinct and recognisable marketing style, building a hotel. You’d have a pretty clear idea or image in your head as to what it would look like. The same cannot be said, however, if Holiday Inn was to make a shoe. Your identity speaks for itself, and finding the right client is where profit lies.
Being a street photographer, emotion is a tangible influence, both personally and in Phil’s immediate habitat. Street photography is driven by capturing city life in the rawest form. People going about their daily life, hustling and struggling. This dynamic reached extremities during the 9/11 terror attack and the Covid – 19 pandemic. The sheer panic and sorry state people were in when the Twin Towers crumbled came a shock even to him. “I couldn’t bring myself to click pictures of some people who were so obviously stricken by grief and at the lowest point in their lives.” It leads you to think, where does one draw the line between what is daily life and what is not, and what is okay to be photographed and what morally isn’t? These decisions are part and parcel of being a street photographer.
Phil cannot stress enough on the importance of innovating, doing what you love and loving what you do. He speaks to us because we share his affinity towards photography, be it in any form. Struggle is inevitable no matter which avenue life takes you into, and the desire to grow, to showcase yourself and most importantly, to remain a student throughout your life is the mantra for success!