Documentary Photographer

About Phil

Phil Decker studied at the International Center of Photography in 1984, in the first year of ICP's Documentary Photography program. While at ICP in New York City, Phil created documents on his neighbors in Spanish Harlem and on Jewish immigrant elders on the Lower East Side. He went on to publish and exhibit photo documents of Haitian migrant farmworkers in his home state of Maryland, and of undocumented Mexican farmworkers in Arizona, in their home state of Queretero, Mexico, and crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Phil then worked for several years for the Foundation of International Community Assistance (FINCA) as the Director for Northern Mexico of a "village banking" program, helping to create 40 village banks and training other NGOs throughout Mexico in the methodology.

To help raise his growing family, and to continue to support immigrant communities, Phil worked throughout the 90's as a bilingual middle school teacher in San Diego, California and Salem, Oregon. Since 2002 he has served at-risk communities as an elementary school principal. He is currently the principal of Four Corners Elementary in Salem, Oregon.

Recently, Phil has returned to his roots as a documentary photographer. In 2009 he created a photo essay "Traces of the Jewish Lower East Side", which was exhibited at the Oregon Jewish Museum. In the spring of 2010, Phil embarked on documenting daily life in rural Mexico, in collaboration with the families of his current and former students. Chemeketa Community College, the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, and the World Beat Festival hosted exhibits of this work. Throughout 2011 and 2012, Phil has helped coordinate a team of local documentary photographers, The Salem Photo League (SPL), who have created an exhibit entitled “Faces of Salem”, to explore the increased cultural and ethnic diversity in the community. SPL has also coordinated a series of street exhibits called “Focus on Salem”, to shed light on community issues and to raise awareness about downtown business closures. Phil continues to explore personal photo-rituals, such as “Hot Tub Torah”, “Hiking the Salem National Forest”, and “Days of Awe”. He is also working on a series about small town Oregon Crop Festivals.

Phil enjoys life in Salem, Oregon with his wife, four daughters, and four grandchildren.

Phil holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Maryland, an MA in Latin American Studies from Stanford, a bilingual teaching credential from San Diego State, and an educational administrative credential from Portland State University.


Phil at 36

"My objective is to contribute to social change through photography, writing and education."

-Phil Decker