A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

A Conversation with Photographer Polly Penrose

January 5, 2015
I had the opportunity for a Q&A with photographer Polly Penrose. Here are some highlights from that session.


How did you first get into photography?

I brought my first camera at 11 and have been taking pictures since.


How has your work evolved since you first got started?

I started taking my pictures seriously when i entered a competition for the London Photographic Association and won. That was in 2008. That gave me confidence in my ‘eye’ and ideas – so i became more bold and comfortable with my work.


Who are the photographers who have influenced you? and the artists? 

So many. I think it’s individual images more than specific artists. I  worked as a fashion stylist for years and i love fashion photography from Avedon, Irving Penn, Sarah Moon to Mark Borthwick, Viviane Sassen, Tim Walker to more art based photographers such as Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Edward Weston, Francesca Woodman… but there are so many images in the world, all over the place that can move me and make me stop in my tracks and i have no idea who took them! I love tudor paintings and sculptures, the sunrise at the tate modern was one of the best things i’ve ever seen. Sometimes just the light falling in a certain way takes my breath away.


How do you choose your subjects to photograph?

The ‘A Body of Work’ pictures are easy because its always me! But portraits i shoot people i find fascinating, that have a bit of a secret in the way they look, be they friends, family or people that i cast from the street.


What makes the most successful shoot for you?

I never plan anything too much. I work best when i’m organic and relaxed.


What makes for the most interesting shoots?

I don’t think there’s a recipe for this. Sometime the shoot just goes into a different gear, if you’re open and try things in the moment sometimes it doesn’t’ work but sometimes something wonderful is created – a certain kind of magic that makes me hold my breath when i’m shooting for fear of loosing it!!


What equipment are you using currently?

I use a Canon 5D, with either a 24 – 70ml lens or 50ml lens. The occasional daylight balanced constant soft box and reflectors.


When you photograph individual subjects how much time do you use to get to know them?

I sometimes have a pre meeting and talk through what we’re going to do – but often i meet them on the day of the shoot and have a cup of tea before we get going. Often i get to know them as we’re shooting.


How much planning you do for each shoot and how much happens naturally?

I’m a pretty organic photographer, i tend to plan the outlines and fill in the rest as i go.


Can you talk about some technical aspect of your work and photography in general?

I’m extremely untechnical! – i had to look on my lens to tell you what i shoot with!


What were you be doing if you were not a photographer?

I don’t know! Realistically just focusing on being a mother to my two children for a few more years. In my imagination being an acrobat in a circus – or a marine biologist.


Is the processes of creating your photographs emotional for you?

Taking photographs is nourishing for me. It’s a need – i feel aggravated and frustrated if i haven’t shot for a while. A Body Of Work is emotional to look back on, and think of where i was in an emotional sense at the time of taking each picture.


What projects have you planned in future?

To continue with a body of work. I have individual pictures that i want to take that could turn into a project. I would love to photograph myself with my mother – and then perhaps other mothers and daughters.


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