Photographs courtesy Philip Holt.
Philip Holt sees what others don’t see.
But that’s because the South Salem photographer has an unusual way of looking at the world, particularly people at leisure.
Why visit landmarks only to take selfies instead of experiencing the moment?
Why watch others overindulge in food for prizes?
Why fight your way onto an overcrowded beach?
These kinds of questions are the backbone of his human-interest photography. “People have to relax and poke fun at themselves,” he says. “They can’t take everything so seriously.”
The activities that he has photographed include a pizza-eating contest, a fitness competition, a peace rally, an amusement park trip, a college alumni party and the Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn’s Coney Island.
And, of course, a beach trip, which inspired his first project 10 years ago. “Cannes Beach” was prompted by Holt’s simple curiosity about people selecting an overcrowded French beach, versus the serene, spacious — and shaded — city that surrounds it.
“I found it so amusing that the whole town was empty. But then, if you go to the beach, it’s so crowded. There isn’t an inch to walk by,” he says.
Holt approaches every project, which he describes as “tongue-in-cheek,” by assuming an outsider’s perspective.
“The way I look at it is that of coming from another world, or being an extraterrestrial and observing human beings and the things we do,” he says.
But in addition to activities, he also enjoys photographing people who make up the fabric of everyday life.
“I’m interested in people we don’t normally see,” he says. Some of Holt’s subjects have included female boxers, construction workers in Dubai and, one of his personal favorites, New York City taxi drivers.
To capture them, he set up a camera adjacent to a location where taxi drivers were clocking into their shifts.
Though Holt has been working with people for many years, his career began with still life photography, which is still a significant part of his business today.
“I started off with still life because of shapes and everyday objects that you don’t really notice but were very important — visually important,” he says. “I think we don’t notice these objects, because they’re just a part of our daily lives, but they’re really beautiful.”
They include vegetables, a beer can, a paper bag and paint can lids, the subject of an ongoing project. In his still life photography, Holt incorporates bold color, whether via the subject itself or its background — a characteristic for which he has become known.
Regardless of the style, he was always drawn to the lesser-known details — a view that may stem from a lifetime spent adapting to new cultures.
“I didn’t belong anywhere, but I belonged everywhere,” says Holt, who was born in Lisbon to a French mother and a British father. He spent his childhood in Milan, attended college in Boston, and later lived in London, Paris and, for the past 20 years, New York, pursuing his work. He is fluent in English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, and can easily adapt to any given situation, which is apparent in his photography.
“I feel comfortable in pretty much any environment,” he says.