Photojournalism captures emotions of Parkland shooting

Michael Gennaro

North Bureau Chief


Photojournalist Ian Witlen visited the North Campus coffeehouse on Aug. 28 to chat with students and share the stories behind the photographs he took following the Parkland shooting last February.

Witlen, who has snapped pictures for Billboard, Rolling Stone, Spin and other major publications, described the untold stories behind the photographs taken in the aftermath of the school shooting that claimed 17 lives.

Some of the pictures were taken on the day of the shooting; more of them were taken during the walkouts and student demonstrations that followed.

The shooting hit close to home for Witlen, a 2001 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. He talked about the difficulty of shooting something deeply personal, remarking, “Here I am. I have to get my camera and document this. As a photojournalist, you’re not allowed to inject yourself into your work. You have to remain objective.”

Of course, Witlen is not immune to his emotions. After the shooting he took many pictures of the victims’ families and admitted some of them affected him deeply. “I bawled,” he said. “You see these people in pain, and how can you not feel for them?”

Witlen spoke about the backstories and shared alternate angles and never-before-seen images of the Feb. 21 student walkout, an event which drew an estimated 3,500 students from multiple South Florida school districts together to campaign for stricter gun laws and safer schools.

Witlen has travelled around the country taking pictures but he believes the student response to the shooting was unique. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve covered political rallies, I’ve covered the election cycles… I’ve never seen kids this energetic about something. There’s been so many different school shootings, and you’ve never seen a reaction like this.”

He lauded the Parkland branch of the March for Our Lives movement, a student movement that has been influential in the past year. He shared photographs of their meetings and said, “The way they were handling themselves was more professional than our local governments or our state governments. When people say that kids didn’t actually organize this, I can tell you and I can show you that they did.”

While the local response was “heartwarming” to Witlen, he believes the national response to gun violence in schools has been sub-par. “Politicians don’t even want to examine it; they don’t want to look at it. It doesn’t seem to be something that’s being dealt with at all. You have some that are trying, but for the most part it’s not being dealt with.”

“These aren’t things that kids should have to think about. These aren’t things that parents should have to think about.”

But we do have to think about it, and it’s important to keep the conversation going. Leo Dearaujo, the coordinator for Student Life at North Campus, said that more events like this may happen in the future.

“We’ve begun to take more notice because it has been happening more and more frequently. We want to try and do our best to raise awareness, to make sure we do our part to keep talks alive,” he said.

As for Whitlen, he has some simple advice for young people that want to make a change in society. “Today is election day. If you haven’t done it, go to the polls.”

Photo info: The exhibit, called Movement, featured different photographs taken by photojournalist Ian Witlen from the Parkland shooting in February. Photo Courtesy: Broward College Student Life North Campus