Taking a Look at the Man Behind the Lens

Philip Dembinski ’08 on his love of photography and his favorite shoots

If you’ve ever been to one of the many events around campus over the last five years, it’s likely you’ve seen Columbia alum and campus photographer, Philip Dembinski’08, working to capture the perfect image. Today, we are bringing the artist behind the lens to the forefront and learning more about his love of photography.  

What made you decide to go into photography?

My first days playing with a camera were all about documenting my friends skateboarding. I borrowed my parents Nikon point and shoot and would just try to get cool angles of skateboarding tricks, which quickly changed to spending more time exploring urban landscapes. Those early days wandering around Detroit with my first SLR loaded with TMax are indeed at the root of my passion for photography.

Can you share and tell us about your favorite photoshoot at Columbia?

My favorite shoot for Columbia might have to be the portrait session with Alum Keanon Kyles, who sings opera. We photographed in the studio and to get the right expressions, I asked Keanon to sing a few different vocal passages. It was the perfect mix of meeting a wonderful human being, getting great results on camera, and getting to experience a little something different with the in-person opera singing.

What was your favorite shoot unrelated to your work at Columbia?

My favorite recent shoot outside of Columbia was a personal assignment to document the 2020 Puerto Rican Pride parade in Humboldt Park, the neighborhood I’ve lived in for over a decade now. I loved the energy on Division Street which I feel was at even higher levels amidst this year’s coping with COVID-19.

Do you have a favorite photo not taken by you? Can you tell us about it?

I can’t say that I have a favorite photograph of all time- but I have always loved the work by William Eggleston. His way of shooting color film and combining vignettes of people, objects, and landscapes still excites me when I thumb through the pages of his book “Democratic Camera.” There is a striking portrait of a woman in a one-piece navy-blue dress sitting on a yellow painted curb along the side of a residential road. A stack of documents unknown to the viewer in her lap and a piercing gaze suggests no direction was given by the photographer. It sucks me in every time!







Daisy Franco
Communications Manager