Still photography? Yes, it’s still important

“I’m a firm believer in Henri Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment: there’s always a moment that’s the best and that’s why still photography is, I think hands-down, far superior,” declared Philip Gould, independent photographer and author of numerous photography books based on Louisiana.

More than 100 students, advisers and photography enthusiasts attended a photography panel held at the 2014 SEJC Communication Conference, hosted by UL Lafayette, where the main discussion was “Is Still Photography Still Important?,” in a technology-driven media where video is increasingly more accepted.

Along with Gould, the panel included Robin May, photo editor at The Independent in Lafayette; Dominick Cross, entertainment reporter and videographer; and staff photographer Leslie Westbrook, both from The Daily Advertiser.

“It takes both in today’s newspaper industry,” stated Cross. “We’re in transition right now. The business is in total transition.

“I mean, because it’s our job to get the word out to people,” Cross continued, “to get information to people so they can make proper decisions down the line about whatever, but you know, right now, it’s still kind of crazy.”

The panelists each discussed past examples of their work and their opinions over whether they preferred shooting stills or video. Cross presented an interview he conducted with Cajun and zydeco musician Cedric Watson along with a personal video he shot during an ice storm in January.

Westbrook discussed his work from the November abduction of 29-year-old Bethany Arceneaux, who was taken by her estranged boyfriend Scott Thomas, also 29. Arceneaux was found three days later by her family and police in an abandoned house in the town of Duson. Thomas was shot and killed by several members of Arceneaux’s family. No charges were filed against them.

“I thought it was gonna be a done assignment. I thought that was gonna be the best shot [of Arceneaux’s family searching] I was gonna get,” stated Westbrook.

Westbrook recalled a neighbor close to the family stated there was a house that was not checked yet. Westbrook described how he and Arceneaux’s family approached the house and heard gunshots. Unbeknownst to Westbrook at the time, the bullets were going toward the house. He recalled people shouting that Arceneaux was in the house. After a short standoff, her family retrieved her from the house.

During the entire search, Westbrook took stills and video. A picture of Arceneaux, terrified and bloodied, being carried to a car by her uncle, was published on the front page of The Daily Advertiser and carried nationally by the Associated Press. It created an issue of whether it was right to publish the photo so soon.

“There was a lot of drama over that,” Westbrook stated. “The issue about this photo was whether or not we should be publishing a picture of this lady at her most vulnerable. Of course, I mean, to me, it’s about domestic violence issue. To me, it’s a beautiful photo.

“At first, I think they were a little bit upset,” Westbrook said of Arceneaux’s family’s reaction to the published photo, of course, it was all very raw and fresh, but one of our sports reporters is a member of the family and after talking to him about it, I think they accepted it.”

In the end, the entire panel seemed to agree that although shooting video is a more acceptable way of sharing content, still photography can still be a great way to tell a story.

“I think there is some power in video and it’s also instilled in still photography,” Cross stated. “Video and photos can work together. It can be done.”