Richard Phillips

Cardinal Hotel

Second place Peninsula Images

Every night for the last 10 years, as Richard Phillips left his office, the red neon glow of the Cardinal Hotel sign caught his eye. Sometimes, after a long day of career counseling, the sign almost began to seem surreal.

Phillips feels that the best photographs come when a photographer knows his subject well. "I like shooting something that I've observed for a long time in different situations," he explains.

One evening, he finally decided that the time was right to photograph that neon red sign.

As he set up his tripod, Phillips could sense that there would be something special about this photograph. Although he shoots 99 percent of his work straight to slides, Phillips decided to load a color negative into his camera.

This allowed him to have a color photograph of the image printed. When Phillips showed it to his family, his daughter was so impressed that she suggested he enter it in the Weekly's photo contest. The next thing he knew, "Cardinal Hotel" was a prize-winner.

The photograph is the latest in a long running project for Phillips, who has been enraptured by neon signs for over 30 years, and estimates that he has photographed 500 of them. "When I was a kid, most of the city streets in a mid-sized town had neon signs and I just loved them," he says.

"I like the pureness of the light and the way it reflects and diffuses onto surfaces."

The challenge of photographing neon signs, Phillips explains, is determining the best exposure time to achieve the correct brightness of the sign.

It's the kind of skill that one has to learn by trial and error. Over the years, Phillips, a self-taught photographer, has gotten pretty good at judging. But the process was anything but easy.

"I shot a lot of film, threw out a lot of duds, and got better that way," he says.

Evidently, the years of practice have paid off. Phillips occasionally creates greeting cards from his photographs and gives them to his friends and family. But, he complains that his cards never get used. "Everybody says they don't want to send them because they're too beautiful," he says. The failure of his greeting cards seems to be the ultimate testimony to the success of his art.

--Steven Raphael