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Richard Phibbs. Photo courtesy Richard Phibbs
Richard Phibbs. Photo courtesy Richard Phibbs

A Legacy as Big as All Outdoors

How the art of giving back motivates photographer Richard Phibbs

While most people’s concept of the world of fashion photography probably doesn’t include poignant images of children with AIDS , New York fashion and celebrity photographer Richard Phibbs (BA 1985 Victoria) has been drawn to worthy causes since his Nobody’s Children exhibition raised money for kids with HIV in 2001.

The positive reaction showed Phibbs that his images could affect social change and inspired him to turn his attention to other causes he cares about. As a dog owner, passionate supporter of animal rights and a board member of the Humane Society of New York City, his moving portraits of animals up for adoption have not only generated a great response from the public, they’re also being collected in a book called Rescue Me in 2016.

The West, by Richard Phibbs
The West, by Richard Phibbs

The combination of starkness and intimacy that created Phibbs’s compelling and distinctive minimalist style grew from an aesthetic formed as a boy sweeping floors at the world’s most famous rodeo – the Calgary Stampede. So it’s fitting that in his new book, The West, he has not only turned his attention to the milieu that shaped his vision as an artist – he has tied it to an important cause.

As a boy growing up in Calgary, says Phibbs, the only homeless people he saw were Aboriginal. Learning the truth about how Canada’s First Nations have been treated steeled his determination to give them the dignity and honour that they deserve – so he made sure proceeds from sales of The West will support educational initiatives for Indigenous people.

Images from The West. Photos: Richard Phibbs
Images from The West (click for larger). Photos: Richard Phibbs

Describing the images in the new book, Phibbs explains that he pretty much thinks of the same things whether he’s photographing a cowboy or a Hollywood actor. “My intention was to truly represent the West.” He says his romantic and iconic style is a manifestation of the landscape he grew up in. “I find simplicity and purity the most magical. And I know this is completely shaped by what I was always looking at as a boy – the endless flat wheat fields of the prairies that were surrounded by an enormous blue sky.”

Perhaps that was the inspiration for his big heart.

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