Looking at Chip Phillips’ photographs is almost like being there, experiencing his passion for the world in which we live. He captures places during peaks of dangerous weather or so remote that it takes hours to get there by hiking or snowshoeing.
“Bad weather is exciting. It’s also beautiful and dramatic,” he said, adding that he was knocked off his feet only to find his head bleeding during one particular storm.
A bit of an extreme photographer, Phillips captures the beauty from the coast to the Palouse and from forests to fields, often leaving the traveled and marked paths. With bear spray in hand and yelling because there’s nothing worse than a bear that’s been caught off guard, Phillips takes his cameras into the wild, producing works that leave a viewer feeling awed by the universe.
His intimate scenes are almost abstract. “Frozen Pond, Jasper Alberta” shows sticks emerging from frozen blue with wisps of flowing white, and “Lightning on Ice” shows the same frozen blue fractured in different hues and split by a streak of white. A fan of sunrises and sunsets, Phillips’ mountains, lakes, rivers, and streams remind a viewer that serenity (however far you have to physically or spiritually hike to find it) is indeed possible.
Phillips, 38, has only been a photographer for the last four years. It was a natural progression from years as an avid outdoorsman and years as a musician. The principal clarinetist for the Spokane Symphony and a professor of clarinet at Gonzaga University, Phillips has been playing the instrument since the fifth grade. He graduated from the New England Conservatory in Boston in 1995 and was hired by the Spokane Symphony in 2000. He met his wife, Amanda Howard-Phillips, in 2003 after she was hired on as the second principal violinist.
The couple reside on Spokane’s South Hill where they live with a dog named Ben and two cats named Lisa and Sara. They each have a room in which they practice their instruments and give private lessons. He also has a cubby in their bedroom where he works on his photography. Near a large printer, photographs lie on racks. His work also decorates the walls.
As you sit and chat with them, classical music plays softly. Comparing the music with photography, Howard-Phillips said, “You don’t need to know the circumstances behind it. All you really need to know is the feeling it inspires in you.”
Since Phillips has taught himself to master the camera, his photographs have won awards and graced the covers and inside pages of photography magazines. He is also a founding member of the group Photo Cascadia.
The serene and spiritual nature of his work is hard to deny; his photos are like prayer – universal, from the heart, and able to move others. The couple’s music is the same as it also has the ability to stir emotions. Standing in front of one of his pieces while classical music plays in the background almost makes you forget about life’s stressors and realize the power of prayer in whatever language you speak.