Photography appealed to Ely at a young age.
For Ely Phillips, being the child of a civil engineer meant moving every few years. First to Georgia, then Puerto Rico, and even the Philippines before settling in Chicago, Illinois for the second half of high school. Amidst all this motion, photography meant something steady. Photography was something he could take with him and, like skateboarding, not have to leave behind. He remembers this early experience in combining these twin pursuits: taking a picture with a point-and-shoot of his little brother doing some kind of early grab trick off his father's white Ford truck.
His dad was far from pleased.
"Photography was great for moving around," says Phillips years later. "My brother and I got into it while living in the Philippines. I was around 13 at that time. It was the same as skateboarding for me. You don't need a team of people and you can do it anywhere. It was also my passport to meet new people and make friends wherever we landed."
Despite meeting with early parental disapproval, Phillips -- now a permanent resident of Long Beach, Calif. -- has established himself as a well regarded photographer. In the process he has earned the admiration of skateboarding industry luminaries like Jim Greco, Keith Hufnagel and Tony Larson, as well as being published in Thrasher and Skateboarder magazines.
"For a young photographer Ely possesses a mature eye for the unique and unusual," says Tony Larson, a painter and former art director at Girl Skateboards. "It's hard to maintain a level of grace and artistry when you're lying in a gutter, but Ely seems to deliver every time."
Phillips found early inspiration in masters like Danny Lyon, whose seminal 1967 book "The Bikeriders" documented The Outsiders motorcycle gang.
"He allowed the viewer to really feel the energy of his subjects," says Phillips.
Skateboard magazines similarly devoured hours of his time.
"J. Grant Brittain's photo of Tod Swank pushing through a shaft of light in Del Mar, Calif.," said Phillips when asked about his favorite photographs. "Grant has so many great photos, but the use of light in this photo speaks to me the most. We are all looking for light; that's what we do as photographers."
Photography has also brought Phillips to legendary locales like "Skatetopia," the sprawling Rutland, Ohio farm notorious for its anarchic atmosphere.
"The first morning I was there, I woke up in the back of my friend's late '70s Chevy Suburban to the sight of a car on fire in the middle of the field and thinking how gnarly this place was," says Phillips. "It was Friday the 13th when I was there, so the place was going off."
Phillips likewise recalls a memorable photo shoot with Jim Greco.
"We had checked out this roof to sidewalk gap that Jim wanted to skate a few weeks before," says Phillips. "We headed back with all of the tools to make the spot skate-able, (i.e. crow bar, ladder, wood for the roll up etc). So we had a lot of stuff including the camera gear. Here I should mention that this spot is a school."
"Well, long story short, the assistant principal shows up. Jim had been battling his second trick for a little while and was not really in the mood to get booted," says Phillips. "After some back and forth between Jim, talks between the two began to break down. The principal brought out his cell phone to call the cops. This was when Jim comes soaring from the roof and in one fluid motion grabbed the cell phone. He advised the principal that he wasn't calling anyone until he calmed down….All I remember, at that point, was tossing all my gear in my bag as quickly as possible and booking it. Jim said something like "close one." I believe this was the second or third time ever skating with Jim."
Suffice to say these many aesthetic excursions have resulted in some attractive photographs which you may view in the gallery above.