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Philip Bogdan began to see nature through new eyes following life-altering emergency surgery a decade ago. He took some time recently to speak with us about his journey toward recovery and the ways in which his experience altered his photography. Phil also shared some of his process for taking photographs of his beloved Little Hunting Creek, as well as the rituals he observes to prepare for the sleep he finds essential to his creativity.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

I began photographing at the age of eight under the tutelage of Kazik Pazovski and Walter Burton.  Thereafter, everything in my life changed.  After completing undergrad and master’s studies at Rhode Island School of Design, I was an educator at Gallaudet University’s MSSD and KDES.  I taught Art, Photography, Art History, and the History of Photography for twenty-eight years.  In 2014, I was forced to retire from teaching due to debilitating open-heart surgery complications.

2. What inspires you and informs your art?

I had adored photographing dreamlike creations throughout my life.  It wasn’t until after the life-altering surgical procedure that I started to view nature in a whole new light.  Time and space took on an entirely new meaning within my imagery.  Highly manipulated, previsualized images were replaced by spontaneous natural ones.  The elements of time, natural light, and natural color became my priority and my obsession.

It is undeniable, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  The wondrous thing I’ve discovered is that like a fine wine, one’s fine art only improves with age.  My photography has become more sophisticated, spiritually enlightened, and fine-honed. 

3. What is your dream project, assuming no financial or time limitations?

My current project, Little Hunting Creek, is my “dream project.”  Ten years in the making, the “Little Hunting Creek” project was conceived to help regain my cognitive skills, which were severely reduced due to complications from open heart surgery. Having lost the ability to photograph, I needed to start from zero. I was forced to place small printing labels on every portion of my photographic equipment to identify their function. Fortunately, as a result of neuroplasticity and time, I can now make the images you’re currently viewing in my portfolio.

Little Hunting Creek, located in Northern Virginia, has become my Walden Pond. All of the fauna you’ll view are mere feet from my dogs and me. Having photographed the creek exclusively for ten years, generational habituation has taken over; where mothers bring their babies right up to Roarie, Rossi, and me. It’s been an intensely spiritual and ethereal journey.

I hope to continue this wonderfully unpredictable adventure for the rest of my life. God and nature are extraordinary teachers.

4. What was your favorite thing about collaborating with Down Etc?

Down Etc’s founder had viewed my photographic work and was kind enough to contact me requesting that I display my images on her exquisite site.  Working with a most remarkable person has been a fabulous experience.  As an artist, I highly recommend collaborating with Down Etc. 

5. Do you sleep only at night, or do you take naps during the day?

I sound like a toddler, but I must admit I nap during the day. My photographic schedule involves very early morning shots. After tweaking my images for countless hours, I’m usually exhausted.

6. What are your nighttime rituals: How do you prepare for bed? Do you drink tea, meditate, read, or something else?

My nighttime ritual involves exercising on my Bowflex Velecore, showering, shaving, reading my sci-fi, meditating utilizing Silva Mind Control, and falling off to Slumberland.

7. What is your sleep environment?

 a. Do you need the room completely dark? Does that require a sleep mask?

I prefer a darkened room and have no need for a sleep masks.

b. Do you need silence, white noise, or music to fall asleep? Does that require ear plugs?

I need complete silence to fall asleep.

c. Do you sleep hot or cold?

Now that’s a good question. Both!

d. What type of nighttime apparel do you prefer, or do you sleep in the buff?

I sleep in a Champion T-shirt and briefs.

8. Do you have trouble sleeping? If so, what do you do to help yourself sleep more or better?

I’m in a state of bliss every time my head hits the pillow. I have little trouble sleeping. The perfect sleep environment makes for the perfect late afternoon/night’s sleep.

9. How many hours of sleep do you get? How many do you need?

I sleep 7-8 hours a day, which is precisely what I need.

10. Are you an early riser?

I’m forced to be an early riser, like it or not, due to utilizing exquisite Virginia morning light in many of my photographs.

 11. What type of mattress do you prefer?

I love my queen-size Sealy Posturepedic.

12. What type of sheets and bedding do you prefer?

I actually sleep with a bottom sheet over a goose down comforter and foam padding.  I then have a top sheet topped with a second goose down comforter.  I don’t know who’s happier, my wife, my dogs, or me!  If there’s a better means to a great night’s sleep I’d like to know what it is.

13. What are your favorite Down Etc products?

I love my winter goose-down comforter. Who doesn’t love goose down?  It’s perhaps the most fabulous material for comfort and warmth, and so wonderfully sensuous!  A cliché, yes, but it is truly like sleeping on a cloud.

14. Do you dream when you sleep? Do you remember your dreams? Do you write them down?

I have fascinating dreams when I sleep. I make a conscious effort to remember “the most poignant ones,” which I do document.

15. How does sleep figure into your work/art? Can you feel/see the difference in your day/work/art when you have slept badly or well?

Sleep is perhaps the most essential healing element in creating my artwork. If I feel off on a particular day, a brief nap always resolves the issue.

Bonus Question: What superpower would you have and why?

My ability to habituate an entire local ecosystem of animals to permit me to capture their most natural behaviors is my superpower.  They have accepted me and my dogs as non-threatening animals.  They grow and flourish before my lens.

At Down Etc, we believe sleep informs what we do when we are awake. It provides the rest we need to create, and it can bring the dreams that become the focus of our creations. We’re always curious about the artists who inspire us and how they sleep, from the rituals they use to prepare for bed to the bedroom environment they create for themselves. We truly appreciate the opportunity to speak with our artist friends and to share their stories.

Learn more about Phil:


We wish you a journey toward the art that brings you to spiritual enlightenment.

-The Team at Down Etc

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