This is a spectacular image of Barack Obama hugging Bruce Springsteen at the president's rally in Madison on Election Day last November 5. It was taken by Phil Ejercito, who passed away on Thursday, March 14. He was excited about capturing this particular shot and we were simultaneously happy for him and thrilled to be part of the experience.
A selection of images Phil shot for Isthmus can be viewed in the slideshow above. They include cover photos, concerts and political rallies.
We started working with Phil in 2006 after we interviewed him about a text-message broadcasting idea he had for that year's Halloween celebration on State Street called CRASH Madison. This was pre-Twitter, so Phil's ideas about providing real-time updates of an event using text messages were pretty fresh. It also occurred to some of us at the time that his idea was a kind of journalism with a practical application that all the so-called pros were missing in their zeal to publish coverage of the eventual rioting and arrests.
In the interview, Phil demonstrated his trademark sincerity and independent streak.
I'm not a fan of just grousing about how bad something sucks, and then not doing anything about it. I sincerely do want Halloween in Madison to go smoothly, which is why I'm doing what I'm doing (and I encourage anybody who feels the same way to join the cause). Of course, there are differences between the City's primary concern -- control -- versus my primary concerns -- the safety and happiness of all present. My opposition stems only from those concerns, and I intend for CRASH to be free from any political motivations or marketing bullshit.
In the years since, as he became a regular Isthmus photographer and regular presence at any demonstration or political event in downtown Madison, we could count on our brief encounters with him to always be interesting. He always knew what was going on and was eager to share what he had learned from talking to police officers or people in the crowd. He spoiled any editor he worked with by often acquiring as much or more information than any reporter covering an event. He consistently over-delivered on deadline, which is a tribute not just to his abilities as a professional, but to his character as a friend as well.
Here are several remembrances from his colleagues at Isthmus.
I met Phil through covering similar assignments in Madison.
In 2008, Phil and I were both selected by our respective publications to shoot Bill Clinton's stump speech for Hillary, an assignment I'll never forget. Here we were on the platform, surrounded by shooters at least 20 years older from CNN, FOX, AP, etc., with massive rigs. I had my little D80 and Phil had this jerry-rigged, crazy-taped setup that took these awesome photos.
When President Clinton came out, we both turned nine shades of red, and like total newbs, squealed in our most professional whisper, "It's Bill Clinton, holy shit!" Not something you expect to happen in a little Midwestern town; it's definitely one of the most memorable, cool points in my professional life and just as a person, in general.
Phil was always a nice, friendly dude around town. After I left Wisconsin, we exchanged final, well-wishing emails as is the case in things like that, but I would check his work out from time to time and was impressed by how his portfolio had really blossomed.
It is a terrible loss that he is gone.
When collaboration works the way it's supposed to, it's a blast to just participate with the others involved and that's the way it was with Phil every time we worked together.
I last talked to him just a few weeks ago at Isthmus' annual freelancer happy hour. We talked about the excellent work he had done during the 2012 presidential campaign and he told me he had been taking some classes to learn how to do more studio work. He joked about shooting weddings and I told him I hoped there would be opportunities to work together in 2013.
I shook his hand and told him it was nice seeing him and when he said, "It's always nice seeing you" it struck me as exceptionally kind and meaningful because Phil was economical with his words.
He was sincere, talented and one of those people I was proud to know. I'll miss him.
Madison can be an ephemeral kind of place, one in which long-term residents regularly bid farewell to friends moving on elsewhere. Phil Ejercito was a friend, on the other hand, who was there when you needed him, and seemed like he always would be. He was one of my oldest friends in the community, and I am greatly distressed to say goodbye.
I first got to know Phil a little more than ten years ago, when we were both getting immersed in the swirling milieu of media and politics that was being transformed by digital technology. Over the subsequent years, I was lucky to count him as a friend and collaborator in many ventures.
Photography and the power of the image was the common thread running throughout, and Phil's talent and artistry shined in his work. He excelled at capturing unique and memorable moments during speeches and rallies, and reveled in highlighting the energy and emotion that suffuse concerts. But it seemed to me the photos he really enjoyed shooting were those of the heavens above, all while forecasting aurora, staking out lightning, and chasing funnel clouds in the process. And I could always count on him for an absorbing discussion about photography, or just about any other subject that was capturing his interest.
Whenever I saw Phil, whether it was working at an event or getting a drink afterwards, he always got you thinking and smiling. I will miss talking with him about media and music and getting to see the spectacular new scenes he shot. I wish I could have been a closer friend to Phil, but he was always a good one.
Phil Ejercito's life will be celebrated at a memorial service held at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Marshfield, Wisconsin on Thursday, March 21. Visitation at the church starts at 10 a.m., with a funeral mass following at 11:30 a.m., and burial at Gates of Heaven cemetery immediately afterwards. A lunch will be served in the church basement after the completed service. Phil's family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Red Cross or Social Justice Center in Madison.