Believe it or not, the sign pictured above was found in a court of law in the United States of America. The Justice Court in Hildale, Utah, whose citizenry is predominantly made up of the polygamous followers of Warren Jeffs. I just returned from Hildale and Colorado City, where I was working on a story on that fundamentalist community.
The trip was frustrating. Working in a closed community like the FLDS towns of Hildale and Colorado City can wear a journalist down in no time. No one will talk to you and phone calls are never returned. The FLDS live under a curtain of secrecy from outsiders. They are trying to keep themselves “pure,” and feel that contact with outsiders can only lead a lessening of the “holy spirit.”
The Colorado City Hall is a great example of how they keep things sealed off. Looking out onto the small parking lot is a set of glass doors that work like a two-way mirror. They can see out but you can’t see in. Once you’re through the first doors, there’s another set of doors with the same glass. And this is a government building, for the people. To be fair, we’ve never had a problem getting in there, but someone else told us how he often found the inner doors locked and an “office closed” sign that he figured had been hastily taped to the door upon his approach.
Our lack of FLDS contacts did little to frustrate Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle. I watched him leave business cards with several people all over town. While we tried to track down members of the City Council, I watched him walk into businesses and get the blank stare when we asked for a certain individual. We never found the people we were looking for and to my knowledge, no one ever called us back. The Chief of Colorado City’s Town Marshal Fred Barlow explained his position on talking to the media in an October, 2005 letter to his prophet, Warren Jeffs, this way:
“The community has been getting harassed by many news reporters. They are asking us why no one will talk to them. As law enforcement we get many calls and I have explained to them that the media have never told the truth about this people and that the people are not trying to justify themselves to the world.”
Fair enough if the FLDS don’t feel the need to justify their beliefs to the world. The world will make its case for or against the FLDS with or without their participation.
The documentary photographer in me sees the FLDS community as a gold mine of imagery. The pioneer clothes, the children, the large scale of their architecture, the religious elements of their beliefs, their sense of community (which I’m only guessing is there because it’s all so hidden away). But without access and their trust, getting great photographs is challenging. Try getting a good photo while your subject is running away from you. It’s a very ineffective approach.
Driving around in the beautiful late-afternoon sunlight, I spotted these children playing on a staircase. I shot a couple of frames from the car. As they spotted me they all stopped playing and one of the older girls (she’s not in the photo) ran into the house. After only a few shots, I moved on, hoping that I hadn’t completely ruined their day.
I guess we were all unsatisfied with the situation. The photographer (me) knows that there was a great photo to be had here and he didn’t get it. The kids know they had their afternoon playtime interrupted by yet another news photographer poking around in their town and they ended up having to go inside for the rest of the day to avoid him. The photographer feels like he stole a kid’s sucker.
It’s a shame that these people have closed themselves off from the world, that they feel compelled to keep their mouths shut.
There’s nothing more powerful than one photograph that tells the entire story. And that’s what I got after BYU quarterback John Beck threw a touchdown pass to Jonny Harline with no time left on the clock to win the game and shocked the crazy loud Utah fans into silence.
After the winning catch I ran onto the field for some wide shots and noticed the BYU players lifting someone up on their shoulders. I ran over and held my camera up over my head for a few frames. Ultimately, that photo (above) is the shot of the game for me. The winning quarterback being held aloft, crying. The sea of red Utah fans. And the scoreboard in the background that says it all (for this year, anyway): Utah 31, BYU 33.
Backing up to the play, I didn’t have a clear angle on Harline, so didn’t have a shot of the catch. But immediately after he caught the ball the place went nuts. The entire BYU team and coaching staff ran out onto the field in celebration, while the sea of red fans in the stadium stood stunned and silent.
I ran out onto the field, trying to narrow in on specific moments. There was a big pile-up on Harline right where he caught the ball, but I ignored that since Tribune photographer Rick Egan was covering that end of the field. I knew he must be in the scrum getting great stuff there so I looked elsewhere. It was pure chaos, and things happen so fast you’re lucky if you catch them.
I noticed BYU’s Sete Aulai standing alone, stunned in disbelief that his team had won.
Hands down, one of the best games I’ve ever seen.
I’ve been meaning to write about this year’s BYU-Utah football game. I’ve photographed a lot of these games and this was, hands down, the most dramatic finish yet.
But let’s back up. In any normal game, scoring a touchdown for the lead (with what, a minute or so left in the game?) means you’ve come from behind to win. Game over.
Utah did just that, as Utah’s Brent Casteel ran for a touchdown. Even better, he ran right at me and I got the whole sequence (which is posted above). In my mind, I knew that one of these shots could run large as the key play of the game, the go-ahead score.
His teammates piled onto him in celebration, and again I had a great spot for that photo.
Then, the unbelievable happened. as Casteel run back to the sideline, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham hoisted him into the air and let out a celebratory yell. Whittingham rarely lets loose like this, which made the photo that much more cool. Even better, most of the photographers were on the other side of the field and probably didn’t even notice this moment.
But unfortunately for Whittingham and the Utes, BYU then ran down the field and scored to win as time ran out. As that touchdown knocked the Utes out of a win, it also knocked these photographs into irrelevance.
Shooting the Jazz vs. Sonics with our strobes last night, I had a breakthrough. As I’ve written before, shooting basketball with strobes is a whole new approach for me. We only get one shot every 4-5 seconds, instead of the 8-frames-per-second I’m used to with available light. And with strobes you have to accept the fact that you’re going to miss moments left and right while you pursue that one perfect moment in each play.
As positive as I’ve made it sound in the past, I’ve got to admit that a few games ago I was ready to trash the entire strobe idea and go back to being an available light, 8-frames-a-second sports photographer. That night I had a lousy game, coming back with several “OK” shots but nothing at all memorable. It was frustrating trying to learn a new approach while knowing that I would have done better the old way.
But I decided to stick with the strobes and the next game was a slight improvement. Last night, however, may have been the breakthrough I was looking for with the strobes. From the opening tip-off, things were clicking. I was getting the shots I wanted, and my timing was very much improved. Most important, I was seeing the action in a new way, anticipating the peak moment of each play where I should take my shot. It was like I had progressed to a new level of timing, though still far short of what I’m working toward.
The game was very close at the end. A nail-biter. For the last minute of the game I decided to play it safe and switched my setup. I moved across the court to be next to the Jazz bench. If they hit a game-winning shot, they probably turn to the bench to celebrate, so I wanted to have the best angle. One camera, my long lens, I left on the strobes. The other I set to continuous shots (8 frames per second) and set the exposure for available light (1/500 @ f2.8, 1600 ISO). That way I could cover the close action quickly and be sure to get any celebration that might occur as the players left the court, walking right past me.
With less than 10 seconds left, Mehmet Okur hit a three-pointer that completely rocked the arena and gave the Jazz the lead with 1.6 seconds to go. Every fan was out of their seat. It was one of those moments, and the strobes came through, as you can see here:
I love this moment of Okur’s. I love how the fans are out of their seats going nuts. Okur has that look on his face that’s immortalized in a really bad rock song. (Do I have to spell it out?) Looking at the photo now, I realize he’s giving that steely look to the Sonics bench after knocking them out of the game. We ran that photo big on the sports page and I thought it looked great. One photo that tells the story. When it works, that’s my favorite thing.
I got more photos of Okur as he came closer (below), without the strobes, and the difference in quality is striking (notice especially the lack of color). Now I’m sold on the strobes and it’s all about perfecting the timing.