Irving Henry Webster Phillips Sr. Artwork
Part of the Deborah Wainwright Memorial Collections of African American Art and African Folk Art
Irving Henry Webster Phillips, Sr. was born in West Baltimore in 1920. He graduated from Douglass High School in 1939 and enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II. After coming home in 1946, he worked odd jobs at the Drydocks and Bethlehem shipyard before he began his career at the Afro-American Newspapers in 1948 as a staff photographer. He quickly adapted and thrived in the newspaper environment and became the head of the photography department after a few short years. He maintained this position for 25 years until he left the magazine in 1973. Phillips garnered a noteworthy reputation for the Baltimore Afro-American through his accomplished photographic skills and his sensational "eye for the picture."
Phil, as he was fondly known in the community, knew how and when to take the perfect picture. A pioneer in his field, he captured an enormous amount of’ local and national African American history through his lens during a time when most of their history and culture were ignored. He was truly a craftsman who performed works of art through the journalist's camera.
His talent for capturing his subjects in the most enhancing manner won him great acclaim, not only in the African American community, but also throughout the Baltimore Washington metropolitan region. Phillips became particularly well known for his "in the moment" photographs. Each assignment he went on was treated with the same amount of importance and attentiveness, regardless of whether the subject matter was Ella Fitzgerald or the kids living next door. Phillips documented daily life in Baltimore from Jack and Jill Clubs and fish mongers to elements of segregation like “colored only” signs and the 1963 civil rights march in Washington. He was most proud of his award-winning picture of President John F. Kennedy's widow, Jacqueline, consoling Mrs. Carretta Scott King minutes before the funeral of the slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.