Going places that Brigham Young University students can only imagine, Mark Philbrick feels like he has seen it all as a university photographer. From behind the scenes of countless dance shows and football games to directing photo shoots with President Thomas S. Monson, this photographer can tell stories for hours of what happens at BYU.
Almost 40 years ago, Philbrick started as a student employee in the University Photo Office. He’s come a long way since his days as a student, increasing his skills greatly and winning the 2012 National Photographer of the Year award by the University Photographer’s Association of America. This award marks the seventh year Philbrick has won the award, significantly higher than other photographers.
“The real value of this award is that it’s given to me by my peers, judged by my peers,” Philbrick said. “So my peers, the people who are competing against each another, we judge each other’s works. It’s humbling, it really is.”
The award-winning photographer says it is hard for him to believe he was hired in the first place, back in 1974.
“It’s so foreign to me because I put together a portfolio — and I look at it every once and a while and realize how bad it is,” Philbrick said. “I can’t even believe they hired me back then.”
What he has learned since then, he has in turn taught to others. Jaren Wilkey, the only other full-time university photographer, has worked with Philbrick since 1998 and continues to learn from his example.
“Mark has taught me everything I know, that’s pretty simply said,” Wilkey said. “He just really wants to create good photos and represent the university. He’s been shooting since the mid-70s; he really is the visual historian of the university.”
Being at BYU for this length of time, Philbrick has seen changes at BYU that younger students on campus would read in a history book.
The transition from film to digital cameras was a big step for the university photographers, a change that President Merrill J. Bateman, BYU president from 1996 to 2003, helped start. President Bateman bought Philbrick’s first digital camera, after Philbrick jokingly suggested the idea.
“He checked on it all the time,” Philbrick said. “He’d check the back of the camera all the time to see if I was making him look good.”
Philbrick said his first shoot with a digital camera was so exciting he took the equivalent of 40 rolls of film, when his usual number was 12 rolls of film.
“All of sudden we could shoot angles we never thought of and we wouldn’t waste,’’ Philbrick said.
Life with anything but digital cameras is now hard for Philbrick to imagine. The University Photo Office took over 422,500 frames in more than 900 photo shoots in 2011. The large storage capacity that digital cameras carry helps Philbrick with his job to document the moments this university creates.
“Our job is to be there, not to be cheering. Ours is to always have a camera to our eye and always be pushing that button to record the events that are there,” Philbrick said. “Once you’ve cheered, you stopped taking pictures and you’ve lost why you’re cheering.”
“He’s very good and what he does, but he works to get better,” Wilkey said. “He never plateaus, he just asks, ‘OK, what can I do now.’”
To see a video on how Philbrick shot the award-winning “BYU Women’s Gymnastics Poster Shoot,” visit universe.byu.edu.