You can’t deny people are awesome. Who doesn’t like sitting down with good friends to ask them interesting, insightful, and funny questions? With that in mind, local photographer Brian Carlson introduced an ongoing photo and Q&A series called “11 Questions” where he interviews Orlandoans he looks up to as well as people within the community that he’s always wanted to get to know.


I consider Phil to be a fairly unknown mover-and-shaker in Central Florida. He’s had a lot of influence in the lives of a lot of people, mainly through his founding of POLIS Institute, making Orlando a better place in the process. And when you meet him you would never have thunk it. He’s relaxed, unpretentious, slyly funny, and brave. Whenever I’m in his company I know we’ll have a delightfully deep conversation and I’ll leave feeling refreshed, seeing the world a little bit differently.

Who do you look up to?

I look up to my brother Eric because he’s older than me and he’s always been someone I can talk to about pretty much anything. When I was a teenager I did something regrettable and felt a ton of guilt that was overwhelming me. He was the first person I told and while he didn’t pretend like what I did was ok, I still felt accepted and loved.

Favorite book, album, or musician?

Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans” (just realized how alliterative that is). This album deeply resonated with my own sense of the mystery and majesty of the living God in ways that no other album has. It strikes the same chord as ancient hymns like “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Deeply reverent and moving, creative, and wise.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Orlando?

Prato in Winter Park. Their specials are truly special (not the ‘here’s something we need to get rid of before it goes bad approach’). I always get an order of the meatballs and a caesar salad to accompany the pasta special. And depending on how heavy that is, I may also order the salmon which is great.

What are you proud of?

That I have been a part of real transformation in a handful of people’s lives. A few times this has compounded in positive changes across a community. Seeing hopelessness or confusion turn into purposefulness and joy are the best experiences in life outside of family.

Who in your life has inspired you?

Dan Crain and Matt Cummings because their faith in Christ seems so humble and authentic. It’s not something they believe, it’s who they are. Very inspiring to me. I want to be more like them and, in turn, more like Jesus.

If you could mate two different species of animals what would they be?

Mouse and elephant. I guess because I’m attracted to extremes – they illuminate the intervening points which deepen perspective and they tend to be exciting. Plus the elephouse would almost certainly be less afraid of mice and perhaps that would help show elephants that there is nothing to be afraid of. 

What rejuvenates you?

Tummo breathing and cold showers because the combo resets the nervous system which I seem to need. I also like to dig holes and do other strenuous and basically mindless manual labor that you can look at after you are done and say, “I can see what I did and why I’m tired.” Plus you never know when you are going to need to bury something in a rush so it helps keep you ready for that.

What’s something you haven’t done which you hope to do?

I’d like to take my mom to the Holy Land, my daughter to Paris, and my wife anywhere she wants to go (we’ve talked about Greece, Russia, and Norway). I love these three women so much and would enjoy seeing their excitement over traveling to a new place. I’d also like to hold my breath for more than 4 minutes because it’s longer than Houdini ever did and I think it would make me appreciate more deeply the 25,000 breaths I take each day. Plus, imagine holding your breath for longer than it takes someone to run a mile. So many reasons…

How do you balance your personal & professional life?

I have fairly well delineated times of work which I’ve done because there have been times when work has consumed my life and almost killed me. I track this balance every day because I know how easily it creeps in. It’s also something I share with close friends and seek guidance on and help with.

How do you hope to be remembered?

Like Dan and Matt, someone who pointed others to Christ.

If you were to choose a different career, regardless of money, what would it be?

 I’d run a motel or retreat center with some quirky decor, awesome food, and the most amazing spots to rejuvenate and connect with nature and God. 

Click HERE to read more “11 Questions” columns by Brian Carlson.

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