If you ask Brett Phelps about photography, one thing quickly becomes clear: he has the passion.
“I love it,” Phelps said. “I eat, sleep, breathe.”
He studies the light on the back wall while reminiscing about the opportunities photography has given him. Which, for the freshman at Western Kentucky University, is a lot.
“I started videography first, my older brother started doing weddings and I started accompanying him and it just took off from there,” Phelps said. “In high school, I was asked to do a project for our vocational school. I created a little video ad for them. I ended up getting a job based on this work for our school system, where I had to create a bunch of promotional ads specifically for our workforce department that helps match students with co-op jobs.
Phelps had his own office and the ability to travel wherever the students of the program were placed: factories, schools, offices. His time at Western Kentucky University began after WKU professor James Kenney noticed his work and recruited Phelps to come study photojournalism on the Hill.
But Phelps’ love of photography isn’t just something he accesses for work or his college major. It is part of his daily life.
“Most of the time I’ll be carrying the camera with me,” Phelps said. “I will continue and I will [take] the photograph. I’m still looking for one. I always watch what light attracts me — we have beautiful sunsets here. But I’m still looking to see if I photographed that, ‘how could I make that visually interesting? How would that appeal to people? “
While innate ability played a role in his success, so did practice. Working for his school district was one such method he used to hone his skills, but so was another project he started in 2021.
Phelps decided to challenge himself in a unique way. He set himself the goal of posting a new photo to Instagram every day for an entire year on an account he named Brett365. His project is more than a reflection of his photography; It’s a nearly year-long time capsule of his precious life moments, and others.
A silhouetted portrait of a father and son at the Nelson County Fair; A black and white shot of a man watering a horse; A lone figure on stage at the Bardstown Country Jam.
Not only was Phelps able to preserve his worldview, but he was also able to document the lives of others in a visually arresting way.
“The ultimate goal was to be able to improve my creative abilities simply with photography [and] videography,” Phelps said. “Daily practice helps me realize, ‘Okay, what am I doing wrong? What am I doing right?’
He started publishing less and less once he started college, having to adjust to a new life on campus. The project had to be put on hold until it regained its bearings. His account went inactive, but his camera was still going strong.
“I haven’t stopped shooting, that’s a big part,” Phelps said. “I just stopped posting. Now my plan is to go back to assignment. Maybe not every day, but I’d like to go back and continue to share my work and the progress I’m making.
That’s exactly what he started doing. But whether he posts his work or not, one thing is certain: Phelps’ talent for photography is a gift that will take him far.
Journalist Lucy Rutherford can be reached at [email protected]