Month: August 2006

Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs arrested in Las Vegas

SL Trib:

Items in the vehicle when Jeffs was captured included: 27 stacks of $100 bills, worth $2,500 each; 14 cellular phones; a radar detector, two Global Positioning System units; two female wigs, one blonde and one brunette; several knives; several CDs; three watches; three Ipods; multiple credit cards; seven sets of keys; a photograph of Jeffs and his father; a Bible and a Book of Mormon.
The items were seen on pool video footage created with official permission.



My assignment Tuesday was to photograph the destruction of a Titan rocket at the Utah Test and Training Range. If you need to visually picture the Test and Training Range, just picture miles and miles of scrub desert. It’s just pure nothingness as far as you can see. I don’t know if my photographs could do it justice. If you were ever going to set fire to the aft section of a Titan IV-B, a 291,700 pounds solid fuel booster rocket capable of 1.7 million pounds of thrust at 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, this is definitely the place.

Picture the world’s largest bottle rocket sitting out in the desert with its stick ripped off. To set it off safely, the plan was to use explosives to break it apart, allowing the fuel to burn off in all directions without the rocket “going ballistic.”

Crazy talk begins.

My idea to dispose of the rocket would have been a little different. I would make it more of an show and raise some money for the public schools. I would set the thing off like the world’s biggest jumping jack firework. The thing would launch forward, bounce off a mountain, spin around like mad, skip across the lake, hit another mountain. Can’t you see it? For more fun, we could strap a couple elephants to it and see what happens. To raise money for the public schools, we would have the people of Utah place bets about which city it finally landed in. I’d put five bucks on Brigham City.

But by the time I drove out to the test and training range, it was obvious that my plan wouldn’t work. Coordinating with the elephant trainer was proving too difficult, and I still hadn’t talked to anyone with the Air Force.

Crazy talk ends.

Events like this where something is blown up or set afire are heavily controlled for safety reasons. We were taken to the top of Bug Hill, about four still photographers and maybe five TV cameras. The rocket was two miles away. Photographically, one guy had a 600mm lens, another a 400mm lens, and other guy had a 70-200. I considered bringing a 600mm for a really tight shot, but to me the real photo would be the huge cloud of smoke. I settled on a 300mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter and a second camera with a 70-200mm lens.

We waited for a couple of hours before the countdown finally began. I had the long lens on a tripod and the other camera in my hands, ready to pounce on the shot. Finally the blast went off, it looked like a hundred shooting stars heading toward the sky. I held down the buttons on both cameras, one tight and one a little more tight. It was a beautiful explosion, and then the fuel started burning. It was a lot brighter than I expected, and smoke was just pouring out of that thing. An incredible sight.

After four or five minutes, the fuel was all burned, and the Air Force offered me a styrofoam box lunch for $1.80. Inside were beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a piece of fish.

Third Place – Spot News

This photograph of mine won 3rd place in the Spot News category of the Utah News Photographers Association’s Photojournalism Competition. Here’s the backstory:

When people hear that I’m a news photographer their first impression is that I must spend all of my time chasing sirens and photographing horrific car crashes and fires. I can only guess that they get that idea from watching the TV news, which is awash in these stories of mayhem and danger. We don’t really roll on too many car crashes or fires unless it’s something really big.

When I started at my career at the Daily Herald in Provo, there was no car crash too small for us. We would run out on anything. You name it, I photographed it in Provo. Oh, the stories I could tell. They’re all flooding into my mind right now. My very first assignment ever was a rollover in Provo Canyon (no one was hurt). I’ll tell those stories somewhere else some other time.

I worked in Provo for 2 1/2 years. When I have an assignment in Utah County now, I try to find a little extra time to hit my
favorite photo spots. I’ll try to swing by the rope swing, the falls, the train bridge, the hobo camp, the steel mill, the lake.

Utah Lake State Park is a wonderful place for photography. I drove to the lake in January 2005, where the jetty was being extended. This large truck had tipped over. The driver was fine aside from a maybe a small breakout of embarrassment. It wasn’t the biggest news, but the scene was great for an unusual news photo. I actually sat in my car
staying warm, listening to music and shooting through the passenger window. The whole recovery process took about an hour.

I shoot everything in color. But after looking at it, the photographs from this scene were amazing in black and white. (And that’s how it ran in the paper.) With black and white the viewer is able to concentrate more on the shapes of the image. Also, I was shooting into the sun on a hazy day. Not great conditions for color. The blues just didn’t pop like I would have hoped. Remember, in news photography you can’t go in and over-saturate that hazy blue into a beautiful photo.

Here’s how the scene looked in color on that hazy day:

The Beetdiggers

So I’m photographing the Jordan Beetdiggers vs. the Alta Hawks High School basketball in January 2005. And since I shoot dozens of basketball games every year, I’m looking for a new angle. The game is in the fourth quarter, going down to the wire. I climb up to the top of the bleachers for a good shot from above of players reacting to victory or defeat.

Alta pulls ahead in the final moments and snatches the win on Jordan’s home court. One of the star players for Jordan pulls his jersey over his head in disgust and I photograph his reaction with a long lens.

It’s a nice storytelling image and runs in the paper the next day. Normally, that’s when the story ends.

But a few days later I’m looking at that picture and a memory is triggered. I realize that I took a similar shot in 2004. With a few keystrokes I pull up my shot from the year before.

I can’t believe it. This January 2004 shot was also taken at Jordan High School. It was taken from the same spot, top of the bleachers. It was even the same situation, a close loss for the Jordan Beetdiggers. Even more bizarre- it’s the same kid!

I never heard from Nick Howard, the player behind the jersey. I wonder what he thought, seeing that photo of his frustrated self two years straight. Once was probably enough.

Nick, I hope you have a good sense of humor.

Honorable Mention – Sports Action

This photograph of mine won an Honorable Mention in the Sports Action category of the Utah News Photographers Association’s Photojournalism Competition. It shows US goalkeeper Kasey Keller making one of his six saves during a 3-0 victory over Costa Rica. Here’s the backstory:

The assignment was last June, when the U.S. soccer team faced Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifying match. It was a huge game, the biggest soccer game in Utah history and the biggest international sporting event here since the 2002 Winter Olympics. So the pressure was on to produce great photography. In a game like this you can’t afford to miss a moment. Anything can happen and you have to be in place and ready to catch it.

We had two photographers assigned to the game, Danny La and myself. There was no sideline access so once you picked a side, you pretty much had to stay put. Danny worked one end of the field and I worked the other. If something happened on my end, it was my responsibility.

Shooting soccer presents a lot of challenges. The action moves all over a large field. The right lens to bring is a 400mm, which gives you a sweet shot near the goal, but it doesn’t quite reach out to action further away. The problem is, a lot of the action is away from the goal. You need a much longer lens to reach out to that action, but it’s not really practical to have a 600mm in one hand and a 400mm in the other. These are huge, heavy lenses! But as one top European soccer photographer told me during the Olympics when I asked him about soccer: “The goals are all that matter.”

So Danny and I each staked out a goal and waited for the action to come to us. During the game you do track the action that’s too far out, but most of those shots require more cropping that I’d prefer to do.

From what I remember, Costa Rica was sprinting to the goal. At that point I had two choices: stay with the player attacking or put the lens on the goalkeeper. There’s no way I could have photographed both, and if they collided it wouldn’t matter who I started with. So I went to the keeper and let the camera do the rest.

This sequence shows the frames I shot of this particular save. You can see the second of the five frames was the award-winner. It happened so quick, like snapping your fingers. The camera fires 8.5 frames per second, so that ball was moving like a bullet.

You don’t see it much on the screen or in the paper, but the focus is tack sharp on the ball and the keeper’s face is a little behind the focus. It happened so quick I’m surprised the camera kept up with the ball so well and then stayed on the keeper once the ball left the frame.

After the game I was editing in the press box, surrounded by other photographers also pounding away on their laptops. While we’re all competitive, when someone gets a photo like this everyone comes over to look at the screen and offer compliments. The real satisfaction, though, came the next morning when I opened the paper to the sports page and saw the photo very large as the dominant image on the sports page.

Several things that make a great sports action photo are in this photograph: relatively clean background, peak moment, great facial expression. But most importantly the photo tells part of the story of the game. Keller had a great game with six saves.

I’ll write more about Real Madrid and David Beckham’s visit to Salt Lake City last weekend. That was another great game, and it’s worth an entry.

This post also appeared on my work blog on The Salt Lake Tribune’s website. As always, thanks to my marvelous “word editor” Peg.

The Search for Jayden

My assignment Thursday was to photograph the Carbon County Sheriff Department’s search effort using a K-9 dog and heavy equipment to look for a child who went missing in a flash flood near Helper on July 30.

But when I got there at 2 p.m., the dog was done. Having sniffed since 6:30 in the morning, its day was over. A few officers were standing around. Their day also over, they talked about the search.

So what I’m trying to say is that there was no shot to be had. A two-hour drive and it’s all over. As a newspaper photographer, I can’t fake a scene. I can’t ask them to pick up their shovels and pretend to dig. My only real option is to shoot pictures of the area they were searching or portraits of the guys standing around. Neither option is pretty, let alone worth the drive out here.

Then a couple of cars pull up. It’s the boy’s parents, Courtney and Josh Seal. As they get out of their car it’s obvious they have been searching as well; there is mud on their pants, they’ve been sweating in the desert sun, Josh’s bare feet are caked with river mud. Both are sunburnt. This has obviously been a long month.

On July 30, the Seal family was on a family drive when the raging water of a flash flood picked up their SUV and carried it away. Josh, Courtney, and their 3-year-old daughter Brooklynn made it to safety. One-year-old Jayden and 5-year-old Levi were swept away. Levi’s remains were found, Jayden is still out there somewhere along the course of the river.

The search area is enormous. Items from the Seals’ vehicle have been found as far away as the Green River State Park, many miles away.

Josh told of the moments immediately after the tragedy, when he held his daughter tight against his body for warmth. Should he put her down, leaving her in this very dangerous spot and try to reach the vehicle to see if he could save the others? Should he risk one of his children’s safety on the chance he could save another one? That’s a question that I’m sure he will never find an answer for, as he ponders it for the rest of his life.

The Seals say they won’t stop searching until they find Jayden. Courtney asks me if I would ever give up the search if one of my children was lost out here. My answer is the same as hers. Absolutely not. I don’t see how you could leave a child out here, buried somewhere in the mud. She says she can’t bear that Levi is buried alone, without his brother.

Courtney has a tattoo of Levi’s name on her ankle and plans to have portraits of both sons inked onto her back sometime later. Right now she’s too busy searching. Back into the mud they go.

First Place Humor

This photograph of mine won First Place in the Humor category of the Utah News Photographers Association’s Photojournalism Competition. I love photos like this. The idea that someone comes along to this refuge and blasts away at the bird so methodically. It’s a true Utah sight. Here’s the backstory:

Last year the Tribune did a series of stories on the counties of Utah. My name was called for the Davis County project. Reporter Matthew D. LaPlante came up with the idea of walking a 16-mile course across the county from Fruit Heights to Antelope Island. Since my camera equipment is too heavy to bring on a 16-mile trek, we made one revision and the plan became brilliant- we did it on mountain bikes. This allowed us to really soak up Davis County, to breathe the air, and see Davis County up close.

We rode through suburbs filled with scooter and bike-riding kids, past strip malls and through so many developments under construction. The amount of homes being built in Layton and Syracuse was astonishing. We ate shakes, fries, and burgers at a drive-in. It was a real Davis County experience.

Toward the end of the ride, we ventured into this wildlife refuge where we found this blasted-up sign. It was lousy riding. So many bugs, muddy bogs and no scenery. When we got back to pavement there were scores of thorns sticking into our tires. We rode a couple more miles to the waiting car, at which point we noticed our tires were losing air fast and even worse, the bolts holding LaPlante’s front tire to the bike had fallen off somewhere along the way.

I still owe LaPlante a photo of a pig I took on that ride last May. Someday.

UNPA Photojournalism Awards

Last night was the Utah News Photographers Association’s awards banquet. The results of the 2005 Photojournalism Competition were in and photographers from several newspapers from around the state got together for dinner and to celebrate the work of the winners.

Congratulations to Deseret News photographer Scott Winterton for being named Photographer of the Year. Nobody works harder than Scott.

In second place for Photographer of the Year was my co-worker Leah Hogsten. Leah has been named in the top three for photographer of the year four straight years. You have no idea how impressive that is.

Her contest entries are always well thought out and top-notch. Hands down, she’s the best pure storyteller we have on staff, and a great editor as well.

While Brian Nicholson did the heavy lifting in running the contest, I’ve been involved since its inception in 2001. I’ve seen just about every photograph entered over the years — the good, the bad, the out-of-focus ugly. This year’s entries were the strongest I’ve seen.

The younger photographers in this state are getting better and better. These photographers usually work at smaller newspapers like the Daily Herald in Provo, the Herald-Journal in Logan, the Spectrum in St. George, the Park Record in Park City, the Transcript in Tooele. They are crazy creative, and it’s no longer a given that the Tribune photographers will take home the lion’s share of the awards (though we did this time).

OK, enough bragging about the Tribune photographers. We won a whopping seventeen awards (not counting Rick Egan taking the runner up in the for-fun “Worst Photo” category). But that’s enough bragging. Hey, did I mention we won 17?

Seriously though, the banquet is a great chance for us photographers to get together and have some down time together. We see each other quite often on assignment, but it’s a competitive atmosphere and there is usually no time to ask how families and children are doing, where the vacation was, etc.

I talked with BYU photographer Jaren Wilkey, a talented guy who regularly wins in the sports categories. We both lamented how poorly photographers do at showcasing their work to the public. We tend to show our work to ourselves in these contest-type situations. I don’t know what good that is. Rarely is the work celebrated and hung in the public arena for people to appreciate. We need a photojournalism missionary program.

This is a time in culture when the popularity of photography is at an all-time high. Digital cameras are selling in the millions. Phones have cameras now. Photography is huge. And keep in mind that any one of these photographers (there were about 20 of us who showed up) would knock your socks off with the quality of their work. They are all very talented and creative.

Not every assignment produces unforgettable photos like the ones we saw win in this contest, and sometimes us photographers get discouraged that the assignments we are sent out on aren’t exciting and don’t seem important. Jaren had a great line from BYU photographer Mark Philbrick: “This photograph might not end up in your portfolio, but it will end up in your subject’s portfolio.”

Those are great words that all photojournalists should remember.

You can click here to see the contest winners at the poorly designed but very functional Utah News Photographers website.

Back to Kingman

This entry also appeared on my work blog, on the Tribune website.
We were back in Kingman, Ariz., this week to cover the sentencing of FLDS polygamist Kelly Fischer, who was convicted of having sex with a minor (one of his plural wives, who he allegedly married when she was sixteen). Photo-wise it’s mostly the same thing as before— Fischer being swarmed by cameras as he walks from his car to the courthouse. Then, after, back to his car.

Though you can only do so much photographing someone walking to their car (try it sometime), I really like this frame. It’s one of those shots where everything comes together. It looks like one of those fake celebrity portraits where the photographer tries to recreate a paparazzi scene. You know, with actors portraying frenzied journalists and the celebrity behind his sunglasses, softly lit, looking calm and cool amidst the chaos.

We ran out of space in the printed edition of today’s paper, so the magic of the photo had to be cropped out. Here you can see it in full.

Other scenes from the trip:

Waiting outside before everything started, it’s two TV cameras and a still photographer from the Las Vegas newspaper, and me. We’re sitting around in the sweaty summer heat of Kingman waiting for Kelly to show up.

I was talking to a TV reporter who has covered polygamy for years for a Phoenix station. A citizen walking out of the courthouse walks up and interupts us. He approaches the reporter, “I just want to shake your hand,” he says. “I’m a big fan. I was just down here, hoping my nephew was going to get out of jail.”

Once they figure out why we’re here, the man and his girlfriend/wife decide to stick around. “We’ve got to see what happens to this scumbag,” he says.

Among the local citizens I’ve met in Kingman there is a real sense of animosity toward the polygamists. Several more people notice our cameras and decide to hang around to watch what happens.

Next a reporter standing behind the courthouse comes running to the front. The reporter jumps up with his microphone. “Here he comes, boys!”

Everyone runs toward the street along the back of the courthouse. It’s a mad dash, like they’re escaping a tidal wave. Spectators, gawkers, cameramen, reporters. “It’s the polygamist!” someone yells.

Fischer gets out of his car and walks in as we all run around taking photographs. The TV reporters are asking questions, but he doesn’t answer. The show is over in about 15 seconds when Fischer walks into the courhouse. Cameras aren’t allowed inside.

Two hours later Fischer is sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years supervised probation. Flora Jessop, an anti-polygamy activist quickly leaves the courthouse, visibly angry. “Another child raped by the courts!” she says, walking away from the cameras to compose herself before returning to make further comments.

We’re all outside now waiting for the attorneys to come out and comment. There are still several people just here to watch, gawkers. One lady is wearing a pink tank top that says “It’s not easy being cute.” An old man walks out of the courthouse hooked up to a portable oxygen tank that he’s carrying. He was one of Fischer’s character witnesses, who talked about Fischer’s integrity and honesty in his business dealings.

He walks by the lady in the pink tank top and she freaks out. “Don’t you wink at me!” she yells. “Oh my god!”

“He’s one of them!” another gawker yells.

“My skin is crawling!”

After a bit Fischer walks out of the courthouse with his brother. The cameras swarm around him yet again, the TV reporters asking questions. Everyone is scrambling in crazy fine form. At one point, Fischer accidentally bumps into a cameraman with his shoulder. He stops and apologizes, asking, “Are you OK?” before continuing.

As the TV reporters shout their questions, Fischer answers with talk about the weather, like, “Did it rain?” and “Is it going to rain?”

As the Fischer brothers get in their car and the safety behind its tinted windows, a TV reporter yells out his last unanswered question, “Are you guys finally going to stop marrying underage girls?!”

No answer.

“Okay,” he says to the car. “Bye boys.”

As the car drives off, a private investigator fires off several frames of the car from behind, probably zooming in on the license plate.