Phil Penman comes from a tranquil corner in the county of Dorset, England. Today he works as a freelance street photographer in New York. Penman was born in 1977 in Briantspuddle a village in Dorset with 360 inhabitants and what feels like 30,000 sheep. He had an interest in the visual arts, photography and darkroom work at an early age. After studying photography at the Berkshire College of Art and Design his first job was at the Wokingham Times, a local newspaper published in Berkshire.
Penman photographed just about everything , including babies, sheep, and local politicians. At age 21, he received an offer from a photo agency and took charge of their customer Microsoft UK. Looking after the company meant taking most of the corporate portraits. Phil did not let this tie him down and he left Great Britain and set out for the United States. New York was his ultimate destination but he made a detour to los Angeles, where he worked for a celebrity news agency photographing living legends such as Jennifer Lopez, Bill Gates and Superman Christopher Reeve. After six months the agency sent him to New York to establish an office. During his time in New York, he has covered the biggest entertainment and news stories in America, including the September 11th World Trade center terrorist attacks – for which his work won worldwide recognition.
Penman has spent the past 15 years cycling around the city documenting a broad spectrum of New York Life. Phil’s work has been exhibited at the gallery in the Leica Store in New York as well as being featured in Leica Fotografie International.
Please describe the project with Team Sky and what it entailed in terms of deliverables and objectives (where were these taken, etc).
I’m personally an avid racer. The amount of time you have to spend training is like a having a second job. Whilst out training I realized that we see plenty of race pictures of professional cycling teams, but never what goes on behind the closed doors.
I made some calls and set up connecting with Team Sky, the most high profile cycling team in the World. After being invited to their annual training camp in Mallorca, my vision was to show just what’s involved in shaping these cyclists into some of the fastest on the planet. Watching the glamour of the Tour de France on television, is a far cry from the day to day life of a cyclist.
Training solo through everything nature has to throw at you. The life of a cyclist is a relatively simple one however. Train, eat, sleep, and repeat.
But what sets each rider apart from one another can be effected by many different variables. Genetics, team, support, the ability to handle pain more that the next.
Team Sky is looked upon as a machine. On this particular camp in Mallorca there were around 50 support staff for the 16 cyclists training there. From the team personal chefs , massages , mechanics , directors and support staff , no detail is overlooked.
The team has the best of everything. From the Castelli clothing which allows them to train in all weather conditions to the Pinnarello bikes tested in wind tunnels to make them among some of the fastest, lightest bikes in the world.
How was the creative process for documenting this group of athletes, compared perhaps to other projects you’ve participated in?
Professional Cyclists are a lot more down to earth and approachable than many other sports I have been involved in. Some jobs you’re be told you have 5 minutes to shoot or sometimes even 5 frames.
The World of celebrity can be even worse. Some contracts will ask you not to even look directly at a celebrity, or my favorite is “ You’re in my eye line ! “. This is what some actors will say on film sets.
I found the cyclists would actually really get into the process. Michal Kwiatkowski former World champion actually commented to manager Sir Dave Brailsford that I had taken some amazing shots in the snow. Each day after the rides, the cyclists would come by my laptop to check out the edited work.
This does not happen in every sport !
Clearly, cycling has its own challenges in terms of photography, for instance, having a fast shutter speed or dealing with available light, what challenges did you come across with?
Hanging out of the side of a car shooting in a snow storm for one!
In the middle of a training session the snow started coming down hard. For the cyclists this is not so much fun, but from a photographic standpoint , this was like winning the lottery!
You need the fast shutter speeds for sure especially when the cyclists are descending at 50mph.
Also having the advantage to be able to switch ISO on the spot. To switch 6400 and not worry that it’s going to look like an oil painting is a huge plus. Some cameras I have used in the past would fall to pieces at 800 ISO and be unusable.
I prefer to shoot at low ISO just because I like fine grain but it’s nice to use the higher ISO when your using the grain for effect. Sebastio Salgado was always one of my favorite photographers because of the way he would use the grain in this way.
You shot with the Leica SL, considering the above details, what else made you shoot with this specific camera? What lenses did you use?
For this assignment I used two Leica SL cameras with a Leica Vario Elmarit 28 – 90mm f2.8 – 4 and a Leica APO Elmarit 90 – 280m f2.8 – f4. Both auto focus lenses.
The beautiful thing I like about the SL is the ability for me to be able to use all my manual Leica lenses. Having to not think about buying all new prime lenses for every camera system is a great advantage.
For this assignment I shot everything in Color, however I am just a huge fan of black and white. My favorite camera is the Leica Monchrom, this I use every opportunity I can , however it has a time and place.
All client work I shoot in color and deliver to the client in Color. For my own purposes though I converted this project into black and white.
The simplicity of Black and white is what influences me and a lot of my work. It strips away a lot of elements, so you just concentrate purely on the image and its subject matter.
As a cyclist yourself, you must be biased towards photographing certain aspects of the day to day activity of these athletes. What do you want to surface through your images? What do you want viewers to focus on?
Just how grueling the sport can be! . Every member of a team is just as important as the other. No one rider can win a race, without a great team to support him or her.
Team mates going back and forth to the car carrying the food and water bottles for their star rider, just so they are fresh for when the decisive moment in a race happens.
You do not see a lot of this whilst watching it on television. You will have riders break their bones during a race but get right back on the bike and get paced by their team mates back to the front of the race just so they might be able to continue another day of racing, providing a doctor can work a miracle of course.
Being on a team is a very special bond and you have to be willing to give everything your body has to give, just so your friend and team mate can win.
Through my images I wanted to be able to show a glimpse of this and what makes up this inside a rider. The conditions, the pain, the bonding.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share with readers, maybe other different projects in the pipeline?
Lately I have been enjoying the snowstorms in New York. When I hear a storm is on its way I prepare to get out in it as early as possible. I’ve also been putting together work based purely on 42nd Street and how the street landscape changes from east to west. This will be an ongoing project for quite some time to come.
My portrait collection continues to evolve with new names added every year. Last year alone I shot legends, Donny Osmond, Penn Gillette, Brenda Lee, Geraldo Rivera , Dennis Deyoung, Ruth Buzzi, The Amazing Kreskin, Ozzy Osbourne, Gary Barlow, George Foreman, Lorrie Morgan, as well as a lot of TV personalities. My eventual goal is to produce a book.
Thank you Phil!