Irving Henry Webster Phillips Jr., the Baltimore Sun’s first Black news photographer, died December 22 at the age of 79. The images Phillips leaves behind capture Black life in Baltimore in its multiplicity. They are remarkably prescient, vibrant, dynamic, and joyful: children laughing and playing, a painted sign celebrating the release of Huey P. Newton, and a panoramic image of the Baltimore City Fair.
He was part of a legacy — the son of the late I. Henry Phillips Sr., a newspaper photographer at the Baltimore Afro-American Newspaper. His son, I. H. Webster Phillips III, is a Black artist and image maker in his own right.
Before his death, Phillips and his son founded the I. Henry Photo Project, a digital archive made from film scans of images snapped by the three men. The father and son also held workshops at libraries, nursing homes, and community centers, where participants could comb through the archives, helping identify who was in the images and actively connecting past and present to codify the archive. The archive currently holds over ten thousand images, and Phillips’ son is still adding to the collection.
Baltimore Beat is focused on maintaining the traditions of the Black press. That means making space for our ancestors and preserving their histories, which are inextricably ours. To honor Phillips’ life and legacy, our Director of Photography Schaun Champion and I. H. Webster Phillips III curated this selection of his photos. In these pages, you’ll see some notable faces with ties to Baltimore, including Oprah Winfrey and Bea Gaddy.