EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When WPRI 12 chief photographer Les Breault shot his first news story, the iconic television journalism phrase “it’s in the can” really meant it was in the can.
Fast-forward four decades, and the can that held the film you saw at 11 is long, long, long gone. It’s been replaced by a half-dozen formats over the years, and Breault has honed his craft through all of them.
His father was WPRI’s head photographer back when he started, but Breault’s plan was to stay in the news business for a short time.
“My father worked here and he kept on bugging me,” Breault said. “My fiancée at the time said, ‘Do it for one day, just to make him happy.’ That was 40 years ago.”
And about 10,000 days ago.
When the Claus von Bulow trial attracted international eyes to a Newport courtroom, Breault was still a shaggy-haired kid. And the world would see the trial through his lens.
“That was one of the first times cameras were allowed in courtrooms on a major case,” he said.
Breault, who’s been the photographer and editor for Call 12 For Action for about half his career, has also focused his various lenses on countless storms, punctuated by events like Hurricane Bob.
Crime scenes, fires and corrupt politicians have also been part of the mix. Breault worked with the late WPRI 12 investigative reporter Jack White during most of the Plunder Dome trial that ended with the conviction of the late Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci.
There have also been lighter stories, like a recent shoot under a sail and on the water. It brought Breault back to one of what he would call his top three most memorable assignments.
“In ’77, when I first started, I went sailing with Ted Turner,” he recalled.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Breault and this reporter were sent to New York.
We shot a story on the soot-smothered streets of Ground Zero and edited in the car. But a combination of intense security and closed roads stopped us from feeding it back to Rhode Island.
That is, until Breault talked his way into a Manhattan control room for the breaking news assignment of his career.
“I knew someone there,” he recalled. “You have to be paying attention to what’s around you, especially during breaking news, because something else could be happening on the side. You just have to be aware. Eyes in the back of your head.”
From 9/11, to cruising on a sail boat, one word that comes up often when someone describes Breault is calm.
In hurricanes and nor’easters, calm.
During the trial of the century, calm.
In the face of seemingly constant deadlines, calm.
But Breault has his own take on that. “I’m not calm,” he said with a smile. “Not inside. My brain’s going 100 miles an hour and my nerves are just like everybody else’s. But if I show it, I might make a mistake.”
And that’s how you manage a 40-year photojournalism career of always getting the story, the facts, the images, in the can.