Recently, Richard Phibbs [pictured left], author of Chasing Beauty, sat down with powerHouse Books and answered a few questions about the way he takes pictures, his connection with his models, and what it feels like to look through his first book.
A native of Canada, Phibbs is a graduate of the University of Toronto, and Parsons here in New York. He began with photography in 1994 as a therapeutic outlet after losing several friends to AIDS. Since then, Phibbs has shot portraits of such icons as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Tim Robbins, Wes Anderson, Pedro Almodóvar, and many others. In addition, Phibbs has created classic campaigns for Giorgio Armani, Clavin Klein, and Ralph Lauren.
All author proceeds from Chasing Beauty will be donated to Animal Rescue and Children of Nowhere—a charity Phibbs himself co-founded—which supplies medication and support to Romanian children with HIV/AIDS.
powerHouse Books: How much direction do you give your models when staging your photographs?
Richard Phibbs: It all depends on the project. I have an idea of what I am doing, but my pictures do evolve organically. After doing this for so many years, for me, it’s best to go with whatever happens. A lot of photography is problem solving. If I show up to the location and it’s pouring rain all day and I had hoped for bright sun and blue clouds, I’ve learned to just go for it and embrace the rain and moody light. For me, what I plan will rarely happen as I thought. When you just go with the elements you’ve been handed, often what can happen is better than you imagined.
pHB: On your website, www.richardphibbs.com, you allude to a moment when you realize you’ve found the perfect picture from each shoot. Does this feeling normally hit you during the shoot, or later over the contact sheets? Can you describe for us this epiphanic, “That’s the picture” feeling?
RP: This happens as I am taking the picture. I know when things are succeeding and when they’re not—it’s pretty immediate. Picture taking is a journey; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I am searching for something, and when I find it I physically feel it.
pHB: Looking through your portfolio, from portraits to fashion to still life, your subjects nearly always seem confident. Where does confidence fit in to beauty for you?
RP: I like confidence, and someone with confidence is empowered. I find strength compelling, but ultimately, underneath all of it, it’s the strength of the human spirit that I find the most beautiful, the most inspiring.
pHB: Although photography has been a part of your life for over a decade, this is your first full-length book. What’s it like for you to look through Chasing Beauty?
RP: When I received the first bound and printed book in a FedEx box, the general feeling was anxiety. After opening and looking through it, my feelings moved from frightened to worried to thrilled; I am incredibly pleased with the end result. There are so many steps to creating a book, and there is a decision at every turn. My main concern was the quality of the printing: It’s difficult to take a silver platinum print and translate it accurately to the 4-color printing process. Chasing Beauty was printed in Italy, and I couldn’t be happier with the end result.
pHB: The proceeds from Chasing Beauty are going to Animal Rescue and Children of Nowhere. What’s your connection to these causes?
RP: One of the gifts of being a photographer is the gift of travel. Through travel, you see the reality of our world, and you see the volume of suffering that exists in it. In my experience, in this world animals and children are the ones who suffer first, and it is for this reason that I’ve chosen to donate the proceeds from my book to these causes.
Chasing Beauty is ON SALE NOW
at the powerHouse arena
To see more of Richard Phibbs’ portfolio, and read his biography,
visit his website
To read more about Richard Phibbs
and Chasing Beauty, click here