Friday, June 05, 2015


Everyone with a phone is a photographer, and today, updating Warhol's old saw, everyone is famous for 15pixels. Between filters and apps, we can fool ourselves that we're good, but confronted with an artist evidencing rare gifts in the medium, the chasm between our humble snaps and his staggeringly beautiful work is clear.  If I could keep Bill Phelps in my pocket, I'd throw away my cameras.  There will never be a Phelps app, because there's no algorithm for the emotional connection between the man and his subject matter; Bill captures some mysterious quality in people, machines, and even grime, which scratches at our souls.

Bill Phelps is best known in the world for a series of exquisitely composed shots of models with old bikes (Vincents, Velocettes, Nortons, etc - all his) most of which were taken in 1998/9.  He has since moved on to professional work for the likes of Condé Nast, and his work is shown at Robin Rice Gallery in NYC, but he remains an oil-stained gearhead, eager to reveal the epic from a familiar mix of people and machines.  I've featured his work in 2010 (his gallery collection) and in 2013 (from Wheels+Waves), and it doesn't age a bit.  The current collection is perhaps his best yet, hinting at his maturation as an artist.

Our schedules coincided last month, and Bill was able to stretch a magazine shoot in Strasbourg to a weekend at the Vintage Revival event in the Montlhéry speed bowl. The storied race track, combined with the deliciously gritty subject matter, was catnip to Bill, and he's produced a new photo series, a few of which I'm lucky to share on TheVintagent.  You'll see more in print soon, which I'll announce via my Facebook and Instagram accounts.  For now, enjoy his work!

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GuitarSlinger said...

For certain Bill is an artist . But to be honest good sir .. yerself aint too terribly far from becoming one . Suffice it to say I'm hoping to grab a print or two of yours for the studio . So keep on banging towards those 10,000 hours and the critics will be celebrating P d'O's photography across the globe some day as well .

Which is to say Paul . Admire Bill . Show him the respect he's earned . Definitely post his work here when possible . But curb the envy and keep on with your vision . Cause truthfully ... y'all got something real good going on ..

Anonymous said...

It takes more than a cursory glance to note the controlled depth of field and a lack of pixels. This wasn't done with a cell phone. Just a guess would be a Leica M4 with a Sumilux 35mm lens. Framing of this kind isn't done with the camera held at arms length. You are quite correct - this kind of photography isn't done enough anymore.
Buck in Willcox

The Vintagent said...

@Guitarslinger, thanks.
Bill understands lenses like I do motors, and I know how long that took for me. I started out a painter, and made my living as a decorative artist for 25 years, before taking up writing full time. Every discipline demands time as you note, and the 10years/10k hours applies in all cases. I enjoy the wet plate work, and bring plenty of experience with composition and light, and as well, recognize when someone has a rare gift. Bill's work has always blown my mind - it's not envy, it's appreciation. I love the quote: 'non-artists see a work they love and want to own it. Artists want to make it.' Genius spurs us forward.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely gorgeous. - JZ

VEETESS said...

C'est photos sont "juste" splendide ! Elles transpire l'huile chaude, l'esprit de la course et l'amour de la mécanique.
Magnifiques !

M_Sharp said...

Great photos and writing! I'm not sure how I missed this one, I'm glad i went back through the older posts. It doesn't matter what equipment or processes Phelps uses, he knows how to use them properly and he has a great vision. I went to his site, I love the Advance Auto commercials- they're one great still photo after another.

I respectfully disagree, though- everyone with a phone is NOT a photographer, they can use it to take pictures.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfull pictures! Most Vintagent pics are good, but these here are outstanding