Lafayette-based photographer Philip Gould is a prolific and award-winning documentarian of Louisiana's landscapes and culture.
Lafayette photographer Philip Gould captures South Louisiana’s culture through his ability to recognize the right moment and click the shutter, whether it features a horseback-riding reveler in a courir de Mardi Gras or an iconic Louisiana musician such as Canray Fontenot, Michael Doucet, or Fats Domino. Though noted as a prolific documentarian of Louisiana, his devotion to the state stems from distant roots. To understand a place, to see its ethos in a way that captures a culture so that both natives and outsiders take notice, requires a certain perspective, often a newcomer’s eye like that of Gould.
Gould, born in 1951 in Massachusetts and raised in San Francisco, California, by a Danish mother and a “hardscrabble” Yankee father, graduated with a degree in photojournalism from San Jose State University. He discovered South Louisiana at age twenty-three when he responded to a job listing in a trade journal for a photographer at The Daily Iberian newspaper in New Iberia. Accepting the position was, according to Gould, “the biggest cultural leap one can make.”
Awed by boudin sausage, accordions (an instrument he eventually learned to play), the Cajun-French language and the “sea of bobbing heads” at the Blue Moon Café in Lafayette, Louisiana, Gould remained in Acadiana, eventually leaving The Daily Iberian and moving to Lafayette, where he embarked on a freelance career of “documentary and architectural photography,” in his words. Even after extended travels to Europe and Mexico, and a brief move to Dallas, Texas, his adopted South Louisiana called him home, serving as a fascinating and infinite source of both personal and professional inspiration.
Gould’s artfulness lies in the sense of story he lends to an image. This includes not only a carefully chosen subject but also a carefully cropped composition, sometimes staged as in his iconic Fats Domino portrait and sometimes happenstance as in his scenes of Mardi Gras or music and folklife festivals.
Unlike a purist or traditional photographer, he shuns the darkroom and embraces the digital, cropping as needed for patterns, anchorage and symmetry. Using the computer as a tool, he enhances with limits, applying the rules he set for himself. “I try to make the photograph look like what I saw, even if it means tweaking or turning up the saturation a bit,” he said. “I don’t generally distort things to the point to where they’re unrealistic.”
Gould’s lifetime portfolio stretches from French train stations to West Texas cemeteries and other global destinations from freelance commissions, but the bulk of it focuses on Louisiana. Represented by LeMieux Galleries in New Orleans, his one-man exhibitions, such as Philip Gould: Landscape and Grass Roots are a visual stockpile of Louisiana culture, landscape and people. His work is also represented by his books such as Les Acadiens D’Asteur (1991), Louisiana: A Land Apart (1991), Cajun Music and Zydeco (1992), Louisiana’s Capitols: The Power and the Beauty (1995), The Louisiana Houses of A. Hays Town (1999), Louisiana Faces: Images from a Renaissance (2000), Natchitoches and Louisiana’s Timeless Cane River (2002), and Acadiana: Louisiana’s Historic Cajun Country (2011). “My books are different aspects of Louisiana rolled into an overall fabric of the state,” said Gould. “I try to bring both cultural and historical knowledge into my interpretations.”
A passionate advocate for the arts, Gould is president-elect of the board of directors of the Acadiana Center for the Arts, a post he assumes in 2013. In 1996, he won the Louisiana Governor’s Arts Award for Best Artist, and he was won numerous awards from the Press Club of New Orleans for his photographs published in Louisiana Cultural Vistas. He was the first recipient of the Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography given by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2009.