Brampton-based photographer and “conservation storyteller” Sam Rose Phillips grew up in Springdale. As a kid, she loved taking photos of loved ones, but it took a high school photography class to inspire her to explore photography as an art form. Phillips certainly knows how to capture the artistry of nature, and has traveled to Europe, Mexico, and both coasts of Canada on her photography adventures.
We asked her about the most rewarding aspects of being a photographer, and her thoughtful answer reflects her literary background and education: “It’s the adventure, the diversity in my days, the openness to experience,” she says. “I especially love that photography forces me to constantly anticipate moments; it has caused me to pay more attention to the little nuances of the planet. To be in a position to pass along the wild moments I’ve experienced in hopes of inspiring others is a sweetness I will never tire of.”
“Still,” she adds, “the most rewarding part about photography is the trust. The trust from my subjects that I will tell their story authentically. And the trust from those who encounter my photos that I am capturing the moment in a way that is true to my experience.”
Phillips thinks of herself as a poet first, a calling which relies on a different skill set, but one which she has also clearly mastered. Although photography is a way for her to capture fleeting moments, she feels that poetry is the opposite: “I am usually remembering a specific sensation or moment, and stretching it out into a world of its own. Words come to me quicker than visuals. After pairing the two together, I’ve realized that photography has always been another way for me to share the poetry of a moment.”
In addition to photography, Phillips is also a filmmaker. When asked about the difference in photography and filmmaking, she was clear: “Film moves with us. Our emotions evolve, our impressions develop and grow. It’s alive and breathing and immersive.”
Sound also plays a big role: “The sound of the water plants you into the ocean. Music guides your mood. You grow invested in the characters. As visual as both mediums are, I deeply experience the world around me through sound. And the potential for filmmaking in an auditory sense is exciting and beautiful.”
The human animal is one which Phillips is also fond of photographing. How is photographing people different from photographing animals? “When I photograph a human, I use my words,” she answers. “I ask for their trust in conversations leading up to the camera clicks, I open my world to them so they feel safe doing the same.” She continues: “When I photograph a harbour seal or a bighorn sheep, I use my body. I communicate my good intentions by not being aggressive, by being soft and casual in my movements.”
We also asked Phillips what she means by “conservation storyteller,” especially as it relates to her work in environmental advocacy. “For me, it means that I tell stories of connection and life on behalf of nature, humans included. This planet would benefit from a more compassionate and mindful humankind.” She believes that each of us has qualities and skills that can help make this world a little more loving and that well-told stories can shift minds and inspire action.
“If I’ve learned anything from my mentors it is this: we are a part of nature,” Phillips says, “and as animals ourselves, we have more in common than the walls we put up will have us believe.”