Black and white – Interview with Phil Penman

Phil Penman

The British-born photographer has lived in the U.S. for some time and is particularly known for his black-and-white "street photography". Penman's work is exhibited all over the world and he has won several awards. Phil focuses on street, portrait or architectural photography primarily from New York.

Penman's distinctive style, versatility and dedication to his craft have earned him prestigious awards and exhibitions, as well as being named one of the "52 Most Influential Street Photographers" alongside industry legends such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastião Salgado.

Portrait of Phil Penman
Video Image

Phil, can you tell us more about you and how you became a photographer?

My name is Phil Penman. I am a British born US living street photographer. I live in New York City. I have been there for about 24 years now. I started photography when I was 15 years old in the dark room. I was lucky enough that my dad is a photographer so I was brought up into it very early. I was a failed academic sport studies teacher and photography was my back up and it ended up being the way forward for me.

What does black and white photography inspires you?

Black and white photography is a place that I go where I just lose myself. It’s like an escape from reality and a kind of a moment for me to go back in time. Like I have my camera set up so I can look at the world in black and white and there’s nothing more beautiful than that. I love it. It’s more emotional. It’s a feeling that I get with black and white. Color has its moments, but for me black and white it’s a timeless quality. You can put yourself out there in a snowstorm and feel like you’re back in 1940. It is beautiful.

Why do you love printing your photos?

The printed photo is it, that is photography.

Like you can be sitting in a gallery and just staring and losing yourself in a print. The phone is nice but it’s no substitute for print. For me that was it. You know that’s how I started when I was a photographer developing my own film and printing my work. And I could spend all night in the darkroom printing. That’s it for me. I remember going to the exhibitions and looking at a print on the wall and just cannot help but get emotionally just caught up. Looking at my phone or editing the work, it’s nice but it’s not the same. I don’t get the same feeling you can’t touch it.

What is the perfect shot for you?

Last year I was very fortunate enough to go to Tokyo in December and this is a popular area in Shinjuku. Usually, you go there and it’s absolutely packed with tourists. And we were walking down one night, and it is like no one there and all the smoke was coming out from all the cooking and then there was this one brief moment, where opened up and guys walking towards me. I called that one second and then the tourist desend it again. And my friends from they were like, yeah that never happens. A lucky moment I guess.

How do you feel about working with WhiteWall as an ambassador?

What’s nice is I put my heart and soul into my photography. Like I get up early, I go out, I shoot. And it’s nice to know that the person on the other end and the team behind it put in the same love that I put into my work. Like walking around today, that really shown through. Like they really enjoy, and I was thinking about it, like how fortunate as well like they basically get to see all this beautiful work from all these great photographers every day before the galleries. They have their own private art show. For me, I think about how fortunate they are, and I think it’s like a team effort. Like even for me. I am I’m just a part of the process of producing that final print.

Photography is a team effort. I put my heart and soul into my photography, so it’s beautiful to see in the production that the people that are doing my print had the same passion for it as me. My partnership with WhiteWall has been a beautiful relationship from the very beginning. This is like one of the best relationships I have of a company and is very rare that you get that. I’ve been working with WhiteWall for the past three years now and I demand excellence from myself, so the people that I work with and departments I work with demand the same level of excellence from them, and WhiteWall have always given me that.