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Phil Shockley

Shockley retires after 19 years as university photographer

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

Phil Shockley loved all things cars growing up, especially dragsters. On several occasions during his childhood, his family would drive from their home in Fresno, California, to Bakersfield for the March Meet drag races.

Twelve-year-old Shockley took his Instamatic camera to one of the events and attempted to capture the lightning-fast machines as they streaked down the strip. When he got the developed pictures back, disappointment hit hard. Instead of crisp, vivid images, he was met with vast expanses of emptiness, with only teeny-tiny cars in the frame.

Little did he know that desire to get better car photos would turn into a passion and eventually, a career. From that moment, Shockley set out to improve his photography skills by learning all he could and obtaining better equipment.

At 31, Shockley got serious and enrolled in Brooks Institute of Photography, a professional photography program in Santa Barbara, California, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in advertising/illustration photography. This led to positions with various companies in addition to plenty of freelance work.

One day, Shockley received a phone call from a classmate aware he was looking for an opportunity to expand his photography career, so he packed his bags and headed east.

In 2005, Shockley moved halfway across the country to be Oklahoma State University’s photographer — where his world turned orange. He went on to photograph many iconic Cowboy moments, from Thurman Thomas’ induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to President George W. Bush’s commencement address as well as interviews with 101-year-old Melvin Welch, who sang Oklahoma’s original state song at the state’s centennial celebration in 2007.

In the last 19 years, Shockley has captured almost 40 commencements, 19 Homecomings, 43 STATE magazine covers and more event photos than he can count. Shockley said variety is what he enjoyed most about his job and is extremely grateful for the opportunities he’s been given.

“My biggest motivation comes from creating effective images that I like and that I’m proud of,” Shockley said.

In many cases, even before he picks up his camera, Shockley has already visualized the final image in his mind and determined how to get there.

“Being creative, I mean, that’s the fun part,” he said.

For Shockley, it always comes back to the people he gets to meet.

“As a photographer, on top of the creative and artistic aspect, you’ve got lighting and cameras settings and other technical details to work out,” Shockley said. “When photographing people, you have to make the person you’re photographing feel comfortable or the photos won’t look good. So, in a way, you’re part psychologist too and it’s that process where connections are made.”

Although Shockley retired on April 1, his career at OSU endures through his photos. And unlike those drag race images so long ago, these are a source of pride. Just like he likes them.

Photos By: Phil Shockley

Story By: Sydney Trainor | STATE Magazine

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