I really enjoy social documentary photographer Phil Borges (b. 1942). He’s one of those artists whose work is instantly recognizable. That’s why I featured him as a ‘Photographer with Style’ in my Art Aligned guide for photographers and now as Artist of the Week.
Phil grew up amidst the hippie subculture of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury but went the practical route for college and studied orthodontics, which he worked in for 18 years. Meanwhile, he pursued photography as a hobby, traveling to study indigenous and tribal cultures around the world.
When his son was born in 1986, Phil recommitted to photography. Two years later at the age of 45, he sold his practice and started a commercial photography business in Seattle. Phil began working with the Tibetan Rights Campaign in 1992, creating his first photography show and book from that material:
That first gallery show sold out, a turning point in his photography career.
Phil initially created his signature on-location portraits with a Hasselblad 6×6 film camera and studio lighting. He has since converted to Canon digital bodies—1DS Mark III and 5D Mark II as of 2012—with which he uses light-gathering lenses and a 580EX flash unit when required.
In addition to an interesting look of hand-colored individuals against expansive monochromatic backgrounds, Phil takes a unique approach to his work with subjects:
“When I approach someone,” he says, “I…believe that I am about to give them something. It isn’t every day that someone comes up to you and asks if they can photograph you. You don’t even have to be able to speak to the person. If you are thinking it, they will be able to read it in your body language. They can read if you hope to make their day or if you are just trying to get something from them.”
If you could ask Phil Borges any question, what would it be?