July 11, 2009

PetaPixel Interview | Phil Bebbington


My biggest challenge perhaps has been making my photography match the way I think – for years the two seemed out of kilter. I felt I was taking photos but not seeing – the day I started seeing, it started to make sense.

July 9 interview with Our Phil at the photography blog PetaPixel.


  1. Coop on July 11th, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Thanks for posting this. This is great.

  2. Lucy Foley on July 11th, 2009 at 8:42 am

    He makes a very good point about the editing process involved in family/casual photography being completely revolutionised with digital. All the elisions that are taking place, the versions of ourselves we are not so keen to see, immediately excised with the delete button.

  3. Lucy Foley on July 11th, 2009 at 8:43 am

    And the cultural impact of that. But there is of course a wider point to be explored in this regard, about the general proliferation of photographs of Everything.

  4. Phil Bebbington on July 11th, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Sheila, thank you for posting this – I do blush easily.

  5. Sheila Ryan on July 11th, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    The Archivist remains torn between whether ’tis better to suffer image loss or image glut.

  6. Phil Bebbington on July 11th, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I’m not sure it is about image loss or glut.

    Photographers take photos and as a rule take care of them. Joe Public generally doesn’t – prior to digital it was the film itself that took care of the film. It could be abused and thrown around. There wasn’t an easy delete button and humans being human and basically lazy took the easiest line which was to throw the negatives in a tin – good or bad there they stayed. Their longevity tried and tested. Stashed in attics and basements, largely forgotten.

    Fast forward to digital – the point and shoot brigade who were perhaps the Kodak Instimatic crowd have now been presented with the option to get rid of the bad ones – forgetting that all the photos taken on a day tell the story, not just the one perfect shot of their child. The shots where they wouln’t smile are as important as the single shot where they did. These are now being deleted wholesale and even the ones that are kept end up where? On a computer? and when they change computer, what then?

    The point and shoot documentary shot will be no more – we will have a glut of professional stuff but who is shooting and keeping birthdays and the like?

    Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I think it does and by the time we miss them there could be a 20 or 30 year gap. Lives deleted.


    More Whiskey I think.

  7. Lucy Foley on July 11th, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Yes I see your point, Phil, but a crucial difference between the ‘instamatic’ crowd now and 20 years ago perhaps, is that today they are taking a hell of a lot more photos than before, so actually I think far more photos survive than ever before, ultimately. To a bizarre degree. I’ve been at a child’s birthday party where the child was literally followed around by a crowd of grown ups with cameras distended in front of them, and the 2 year old soaking it all in. Have you noticed how children pose for photos these days? I really notice it in New York. Children turn into professional models, they know exactly what to do when their parents produce the camera, that part of the day, rather than the month or the year as it used to be.

    So yes, everyone ends up with the same poses and the same picture replicated a lot of the time, but then they probably always gravitated toward that anyway, they just couldn’t see immediately afterwards how it turned out. There are so many pictures being taken now. The cost of film really prohibited that. So there are a lot of pictures being taken now that wouldn’t have been taken 20 years ago at all.

    As to your more morose point, about lives being deleted, well I don’t think it’s as bad as that. How about the entire instamatic-covered event that was ‘deleted’ from memory and posterity because of a lousy exposure setting? Light issue? The lens cap being left on? There was always plenty of that. And you’re assuming that everyone only wants the ‘perfect’ shot, the pictures in which they look like some idealised version of themselves. It is not so, not with everyone. All kinds of people with all kinds of eye, are taking pictures, in all kinds of situations. And always, plenty of people “forget to bring the camera”.

    But yes, in one respect, a look at any flickr account indicates that an incredible number of people are experimenting with photography, and it seems that everyone is taking either interesting or ridiculously professional looking pictures. And perhaps this is what you mean. The loss of the simple, over exposed, red-eyed, mawkish, blurry, picture of the kids around the birthday cake. The awkwardly posed moment, where everyone has been gathered around for the ‘birthday photograph’. The fact of that being a big moment. Yes, the momentousness of that part of the day.

    I have been at a couple of weddings recently where no one bothered to get a group shot of everyone who had been at the wedding. The hired wedding photographer didn’t even come near most of the party. That, I find completely and utterly bizarre.

  8. Lucy Foley on July 11th, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Hey folks, I sort of feel like Brandon’s question about ‘is rocknroll dead?’ should be cross referenced with this thread. At least that’s how it’s turning out for me anyway. I kind of feel like having the two conversations at once, if anyone’s around. Otherwise I’m going back to my Ballet Russe documentary, which is fucking fabulous and is making my heart soar.

  9. Lucy on July 12th, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Oh, Phil! There is a man on the fourth plinth right now and he is explaining his live chess games eloquently and passionately. And he’s just whipped out a disposable film camera (with flash! fancy!) to take a pic of the people down on the ground in Trafalgar Square he’s just been beaten by. It is guaranteed to be a lousy pic when it is developed, and he is highly likely to cherish it forever. Hurrah!

  10. Rick Neece on July 12th, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Lucy, I love documentaries that make my heart soar!

  11. Lucy on July 12th, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Me too, Rick. Ok, it’s called “Ballets Russes” and now I am ravenous for the topic. If you love dance and adventure, you’ll be engrossed. It’s the story of the Diaghilev company and Balanchine and Massine and Freddie Franklin and MIa Slovenska and Nathalie Krassovska and George Zorich their travels and oh! It made me cry and I loved it. And the best parts are the interviews with them, in their eighties and nineties and still dancing or teaching, still vital.

  12. Rick Neece on July 12th, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I just looked at the trailer. I’ll look out for it. I know it will fit the bill.