BYU photographer Mark Philbrick retires after 40 years of award-winning photos

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University photographer Mark Philbrick has interviewed for only one full-time position in his lifetime, one that led to his creating a legacy for capturing some of BYU’s most cherished memories.

Jaren Wilkey
Mark Philbrick stands chest high in cold river water to take pictures for a BYU swim team photoshoot. University photography manager Jaren Wilkey said Philbrick “always finds a way to get the picture,” a skill that is “gold” for a photographer. (Jaren Wilkey)

On Sep. 1, Philbrick will retire exactly 40 years after he was hired as BYU’s first full-time university photographer. His career has been distinguished by his ability to approach a wide variety of subjects, from football games to research projects.

“This is a unique job,” Philbrick said. “It’s a cross between photojournalism, commercial, advertising, portraiture, architecture — it’s the whole gamut. We do absolutely everything here.”

University photography manager Jaren Wilkey said Philbrick’s proficiency in both the technical and creative aspects of photography is what makes him a great photographer.

“Mark is able to step back and look at a photo and see it how he needs to show it,” Wilkey said. “As a photographer, Mark is very creative, but he is also able to use his experience to document and show people what they need to see.”

BYU Magazine editor Peter Gardner said Philbrick has had an immense impact on BYU over the years through his pictures.

“So much of the feeling we and the larger community have for BYU comes through imagery Mark has taken for posters, programs, websites and billboards,” Gardner said. “His images have helped define BYU and the spirit of the Y for four decades.”

During his career at BYU, Philbrick participated as both member and president of the University Photographers’ Association of America (UPAA). He is a record-breaking eight-time winner of UPAA Photographer of the Year, an award that was recently named after him for his storied career.

“I honestly don’t think you’ll see anybody come close to winning it eight times. He’s just that much better than everybody else,” said current UPAA president Glenn Carpenter.

Throughout his time in the UPAA, Philbrick has set a good example for other university photographers to follow, according to Carpenter.

“Mark is the quintessential university photographer. He travels, he goes wherever and does whatever has to be done to get the photo,” Carpenter said. “Portraying the university in such a positive light has set the standard for all of us to try to emulate.”

Those who have worked with Philbrick are quick to mention his ability to get the perfect pictures for any photo assignment he is given.

“He has built up trust over the years and people know he’s going to take care of them,” Wilkey said. “They know he’s going to come back and bring the picture that tells the story that needs to be told.”

Philbrick said he especially loves to photograph people. He said he always strives to make the subjects of his photos look “the very best they can be,” wanting to capture the innate goodness that he believes is inside everyone.

“My desire is to get a photo that represents them — not just my interpretation of them, but somebody who they really are, so that when they look at it or when their friends look at it, they can say, ‘Yes, that’s their smile, that’s the twinkle in their eye, that’s their movements, that’s their mannerisms,’” Philbrick said.

Mark Philbrick
Mark Philbrick shoots a BYU basketball game vs. Cal State Fullerton in 1979. (BYU Photo)

Wilkey said Philbrick has also enjoyed the many opportunities he has had to travel as a university photographer with BYU’s athletic, performing and research groups. He has visited close to 60 different countries over the course of his career.

“Mark is someone who loves adventure and experiencing new things — going somewhere he has never been before and being involved in something he has never seen before,” Wilkey said.

The creative side of photography is what most invigorates Philbrick about his work. He said he likes finding ways to do something differently or better than it has been done in the past.

“My idea in all the photographs is to have you stop and look,” Philbrick said. “It could be a ‘Wow,’ or ‘It’s disgusting,’ or ‘What’s going on here?’ but to make you stop and look and question and think about that photo.”

Philbrick said he first became interested in photography as a sophomore in high school. At the time, he was a math tutor for a senior who always seemed to have an excuse to miss class and not have it marked against him.

“I found out he was on yearbook and thought, ‘Oh, that sounds like fun. I’d like to miss class and get credit for it,’ so I went and tried out for yearbook,” Philbrick said.

He became part of the yearbook staff, but wasn’t interested in writing, proofreading or advertising, so they asked if he’d like to be a photographer. Philbrick said he decided to give it a try, borrowed a camera for his first shoot at a baseball game and has been “hooked ever since.”

When Philbrick later began studying at BYU, he chose to major in mathematics. After taking a few math classes, he decided he liked taking pictures “a whole lot more” and switched his major emphasis to photography.

As a BYU undergrad, Philbrick filled photography positions at the Banyan (BYU yearbook) and the Daily Universe and as a part-time university photographer. He kept this job as he continued studying at BYU and worked toward earning a master’s degree in instructional media.

Philbrick said when the job opened up full-time, he was “in the right place at the right time.” His boss pulled him aside while they were on tour with one of BYU’s performing groups in Europe and offered Philbrick the job. Philbrick said he felt like cheering.

Mark A. Philbrick
Mark Philbrick stands next to five of the six BYU presidents he has worked with during his time as university photographer: Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Merrill J. Bateman, Cecil O. Samuelson and Kevin J. Worthen. (Mark A. Philbrick)

University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said BYU has been blessed to have had Philbrick as university photographer these past 40 years.

“Not only has Mark documented the history of the university for four decades, he has done so with remarkable skill and talent,” Jenkins said. “He has earned the admiration, respect and love of six BYU presidents and their administrations, as well as the praise and awe of professional photographers around the globe.”

After shooting millions of timeless BYU photos, Philbrick says it’s “time to graduate.” Following his retirement, Philbrick said he plans to “just go and live.” He said he will enjoy continuing to create and take pictures at his leisure.

Although Philbrick’s era as university photographer will soon come to a close, his witness to BYU history will live on through his renowned photos.

“On one hand I am thrilled for Mark and his wife, Peggy, and the opportunities before them, while on the other I find it difficult to even think about Mark not working side by side with us,” Jenkins said. “Mark has been a trusted, talented, capable colleague who understands and loves the mission of BYU.”

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Philbrick's photography in action

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