Last Saturday, I learned that my mentor and dear friend, Philip Beaurline, passed away from complications due to the flu. He was 59 and died after getting sick just 10 short days earlier. Shock, sadness, a great sense of loss… I’m not sure how to put in to words what I’m feeling right now. But I can talk about how great Philip was in life and how I will remember him.
Early in 2001, I decided to get out of the web design business and do something else. I was living in Charlottesville, VA and I met Philip through a web design project we worked on together. I was curious how he made a living as a commercial photographer and I so took him out to lunch. That lunch ended up becoming a job offer and a shift in my life so profound, it changed where I was going in my life and who I am today.
When I started working for Philip, I barely knew anything about photography. I knew a little about f/stops and shutter speeds and had done some graphic work in Photoshop. Philip was a 16 year Pro shooting a view camera with roll back film or 4×5 and then scanning it on a drum scanner. I had never seen a view camera or drum scanner before working for him. I didn’t know the difference from E-6 and C-41. I didn’t even know how to load film or set up lights. On top of that, I had never scanned film, done cleanup, or color management before. It took me a while to get up to speed, but I was eager and Philip was patient, if a little unforgiving.
He worked with me and my inexperience, but he never accepted failure or anything less than the best I could do. If I did something wrong, boy did I know about it. As I got better at my job, he rewarded me with praise as well as raises. I started noticing that my hard work was also earning his respect. And that respect grew into a strong friendship over the 12 years I knew him. I’ve always felt honesty was an important trait in a mentor. In my prior job experiences, I could do no wrong and thought I was pretty awesome. Philip really brought me back down to Earth and I am much more humble and honest person because of his straightforward guidance.
The way Philip worked was perfection in action. He never settled for good enough. He also never took a picture he didn’t intend to deliver. He taught me to see the shot before even looking in the camera. It’s taken me my entire career to get remotely close to what he did. Ironically, I never wanted to be an architectural photographer. It wasn’t until I had left and started shooting on my own that I came to appreciate the art of architectural photography. There’s a certain methodical approach to it that is unique and fits my personality. I’m a tinkerer. If I hadn’t worked for Philip, I would not have the patience and skill to do what I do today.
There are many lessons I learned working for Philip. The one that sticks out the most is quality. I remember having a conversation with him about the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He went on about how the main character loved his tools because they were the made from the best quality. He could feel the craftsmanship in their make and they were a joy to work with. Philip told me that he felt this was a metaphor for everything in life. Quality, be it a tool, a meal, a photograph, even a friendship, was to be cherished and sought after. Quality isn’t something that comes easily and it takes work to get it. But the rewards of quality will fulfill your life like nothing else.
Philip encouraged me to seek out quality and I have done that in my marriage, my home, my family, my friends, and my career. There are great men and there are great photographers. Philip was both. I will miss him dearly.
My heart goes out to his wife and son. I wish them comfort and peace through this hard time.