Philip Newman was born in 1954 in South Wales, one of twin brothers, and raised in the village of Caerphilly just north of Cardiff. His interest in birds began at an early age on the moors and fields around his home. His father was a professional photographer, but Phil was 22 years of age before he started to take a keen interest in photographing birds.
He graduated in Geology from Bristol University and joined BP working in Aberdeen, Gabon and Nottingham, but in the early 80's he joined Britoil in Glasgow and lived in Kilmalcolm. In 1982 he joined the famous Paisley Colour Slide Club and learnt a great deal about basic composition, lighting and the importance of paying attention to detail. The quality of his own photographic work was quickly recognised.
Phil continued with Britoil in a variety of roles in exploration geology. He became particularly knowledgeable about the geology of the Southern Carboniferous Basin off the coast of Norfolk. He worked on one prospect from defining and applying for the acreage, right through to drilling a successful discovery well. However, at this time BP acquired Britoil and Phil found himself in the position of receiving a bonus for his work on gas discovery one week and a few weeks later being told he was being made redundant!
Phil then moved to Halliburton, Aberdeen where he was in charge of the geological laboratory and finally to Banchory, Aberdeenshire. After less than a year Phil was offered a job with Elf and in 1992 started work in a senior position. He also was responsible as a mentor to many young geologists in the company. In this role he had an excellent reputation of being realistic, giving praise where it was due, but could be brutally honest if somebody had not come up to scratch.
During this time his bird photography continued to develop with many trips to local sites around Aberdeen and in particular the Ythan Estuary, a firm favourite. He met a number of other serious bird photographers at this time and in 1989 saw a big step forward when he joined the Zoological Photographic Club (ZPC). This society was founded in early 1899 and its members all enthusiastic wildlife photographers. Phil was a very active member and was the current President when he died.
He was also a member of the Nature Photographers' Portfolio (NPP) with an almost equally long established history. These two societies allowed Phil to share his interests with like minded photographers across the U.K. His contributions of both his own photographs and comments on other people's work made him one of the most highly regarded and popular members.
In 1999 Elf was taken over by Total. As is typical in the cyclical oil industry, there was another downturn. Phil was not made redundant, but told that as he was at the top of this grade he would not be progressing further. He could easily have moved to another employer, becoming a senior manager in many other companies but he was happy working in Aberdeen and considered it very important not to uproot the family. He always put his family first.
Eventually the block on his grade was removed and he became a senior advisor, specialising in the early stages of exploration, when he would recommend which block of acreage the company should bid for. At this time he also was involved in outreach programmes and would take a geological programme to schools where he would talk to the children about the geology of the North Sea and encourage them to think of geology as a career. His empathy with others meant that he was very skilled in carrying out this kind of work.
In 1999 he made his first trip abroad to take bird photographs with a visit to Florida. It made a big impact on him. For the first time he had day after day of perfect photographic weather, a big change from Scotland and an endless supply of approachable birds that did not need use of a hide to be photographed. He was now hooked on foreign travel and quickly organised a second trip to Florida followed by more to Bosque del Apache, Lesvos, Bharatpur in India, Namibia, Oman, Gambia and Alaska.
More often than not the people he travelled with were members of either the NPP or ZPC. He was an easy man to be with. He was never too cold, too hot, too hungry or too tired to do anything other than seek the next picture. When we waited for hours for a bird to appear and it seemed futile he would just accept it and suggest we wait some more. Always enthusiastic.
In between trips he continued to photograph locally and spent endless hours on the Ythan Estuary especially. He was an excellent photographer who knew his subject well. He had that special talent that can't be taught or given; an instinct to be in the right place at the right time.
He was particularly keen on photographing birds in action, especially flight and no one did it better than him. Although he did not try to make a living from his photography, his work was represented by several photographic agencies and appeared frequently in books and magazines.
He also joined the prestigious Royal Photographic Society and although he did not remain a member in later years, he did become a Fellow (FRPS) of this organisation with a panel of pictures of birds in action. An FRPS in nature photography is very difficult achievement.
He was a great follower of Glamorgan County Cricket Club and almost equally keen on following the England team. When it came to Rugby it would only be Wales he would support.
Although he had been ill for almost a year he had thought his problems were behind him and was looking forward to more trips abroad and getting out in the field. His death was sudden and unexpected and a great shock to all who knew him. Wildlife photography has lost one of the best.
He leaves his wife Debbie, children, Claire, Richard and Sarah and his five grandchildren.
Words by Mike Lane and Gordon Holm