I read in the paper this morning that Utah artist Ted Wassmer died Sunday at the age of 96. Brings back a lot of memories and warm feelings for Ted. When I first started at the Tribune back in 1995, one of my first assignments was to photograph this amazing artist. I walked into a downtown art gallery (don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore) and met an 86-year-old man wearing an obvious silver toupee, a white suit coat and shorts. Ted.
He was great to photograph, hamming it up and especially proud of his legs and how good they looked. Even at his age, he had the energy and enthusiasm of a 20-year-old.
After the photos ran, Ted started calling. He wanted to get some prints of the photos. I offered to put them in the mail, but he insisted that I come over to his condo. He said he had something important to do. How could you turn down Ted? Of course I went over.
I took four prints, my favorites from the take. Ted ushered me in. When he noticed I didn’t have a camera, he thrust an old rangefinder into my hands, walked ten feet across the room, and stripped down to a Speedo and started flexing. I was stunned.
“I need you to take a photograph of me so I can show it to all my old buddies at our reunion,” he said. It was some kind of military reunion, Army or Navy, I can’t remember. “Those guys won’t believe how good I look!”
I remember wanting to kick myself for leaving my camera in the car. To this day, I wish I had that photo of Ted in his Speedo demonstrating how good he looked.
Ever the saint, Wassmer insisted that I take two of his paintings with me. He gave me a watercolor portrait and a painting of aspen trees that he had accidentally sliced. Both paintings have hung proudly in my home ever since.
Thank you, Ted. You will be missed.
I got to the courthouse early, planning to sit in the “cry room” gallery and watch the proceedings until it was my turn to shoot. Not only was I very interested in watching the hearing, but I wanted to be sure I was ready to shoot and knew the layout. Showing up early allowed me to set a perfect white balance and compare exposure settings with Doug Pizac, the Associated Press photographer who would be sending my photos out on “the wire.”
In a last minute change, the defense and prosecution teams had switched tables. There had been some concern that the original spot Warren Jeffs would be in would allow him to stare down the witness (I’m not saying he would have). This move meant we would be closer to Jeffs. But it was a surprise when I looked out at Doug and saw he was sitting right next to Warren Jeffs. At most, he was photographing Jeffs from only 36 inches away.
After a moment, Doug switched to a much better position across the room. Now we would be shooting from just in front of the jury box with a clear view of Jeffs, the attorneys, the witnesses, etc.
Every seat in the courtroom was occupied. People were actually turned away. Security was tight but not overbearing as has been reported. In fact, the security wasn’t so obvious, especially outside. The men with guns were there, but not in your face. One tricky aspect for journalists, they didn’t allow any cel phones in the court, which made communications non-existant.
During a break at 10:30 I traded spots with Doug, taking the pool position in the courtroom. I was working with three cameras, each with a different lens. One, with a 24-70mm lens, was for wide shots and overall views of the courtroom. The next was a 70-200mm lens which was pretty much the go-to lens for photographing the attorneys asking questions, the Jeffs supporters in the gallery, the mismatched socks on the defense attorney. On the third camera I had a 300mm lens, which was really good for getting in tight on Warren Jeffs.
(I could have done it with two cameras and switched lenses, but I try not to switch lenses with digital cameras. It just lets more dust in to collect on the sensor.)
In the initial Warren Jeffs court appearance three months ago, I shot machine gun style, firing off dozens of shots in the brief three minutes I had. This time was different. I had two hours, so I could take my time looking for shots and focus my attention on various moments.
One of the shots I kept coming back to was a tight shot of Jeffs with the sheriff’s deputy standing behind him.
During my shift in the court, the victim’s sister testified. So no shots of her. As I talked about in part one, we don’t identify rape victims except in extreme cases. Further, the judge had ordered us not to photograph the victim or her family.
It’s too bad that the victim’s testimony was only heard by those in the courtroom. It was very illuminating into at least this girl’s life growing up in the FLDS culture. At the age of 14, when she was married, she had had zero sex education. She knew nothing about sex, which she called “man-wife relations.” She was asked how often she had “man-wife relations” with her husband, the alleged rapist. She responded, “It seemed like it was all the time…probably once a week.”
The victim’s testimony was very emotional, and she cried through a lot of it. As she started to get into the worst of the story, I went in tight on Warren Jeffs in case there was any kind of reaction. His expression didn’t change. He listened without much emotion.
When the judge called for a lunch break, Warren talked with his attorneys, smiling with them about something. I waited to photograph his exit, but the deputies made me leave everyone leave the room before they took him out one of the two secure exits. Security reasons.
My shoot was over. Doug copied my flash cards and started to distribute them. I went out to my car and moved my picks back to the office. Then I went back in and listened to some of the cross-examination of the victim. Very interesting, watching the defense try to pick apart her story. I missed a lot of it, but did hear the question that was something like, “Isn’t it true that (your husband) found a receipt for condoms?”
Another interesting thing I learned from testimony today: Fred Jessop arranged this marriage, not Warren or his father Rulon Jeffs.
I’m not here to tell you what to think about this case and/or polygamy in general. I’m not out to get Warren Jeffs and I’m not here to be the apologist for polygamists. My goal is to be your eyes on the story, and show you things through my hopefully knowledgeable eyes so you can make up your own mind.
That said, it’s always frustrating to listen to the media coverage after actually being at one of these kinds of events. You hear so many things reported just plain wrong and out of context or simplified beyond all comprehension. If I could give you any advice on keeping yourself informed about the world, it would be to read the news rather than watch it.
Warren Jeffs appeared Tuesday for a hearing on the charges the FLDS leader is facing as an alleged accomplice to rape.
Going into the hearing I was looking forward to another chance to photograph the elusive Warren Jeffs, though it would prove to be less thrilling than photographing his first three-minute court appearance in Las Vegas three months ago.
This time, Jeffs seemed very aware of my camera, especially when I pointed it toward him. He appeared calm and collected the entire time I was in the courtroom, nearly expressionless.
Backing up a bit, a lot of planning went into the photo coverage of this hearing. Leading the planning effort … no … the guy who set it all up was Doug Pizac, the Associated Press photographer based in Salt Lake City.
Doug is all about the details. A week before the hearing he sent me an e-mail with a map of the courtroom detailing how things would work, where Jeffs would be sitting, and where I would be shooting from. His work on the logistics was invaluable and resulted in great, timely coverage of the hearing.
Four news outlets would split up the still photography pool. As I’ve written about before, news outlets will form a pool to share the coverage of situations where there isn’t room or the ability to accommodate everyone.
For example, say the governor is going to fly on a helicopter to tour flood damage in St. George. There are four photographers but only one seat on the chopper. One photographer from the news outlets covering the event will take the seat and share their photographs with the other outlets in the pool. In Utah courtrooms, pool photo coverage is the norm.
Since this was such a big trial and everyone wanted a chance to photograph Jeffs, Doug’s plan would entail a rotating pool. Doug would shoot the first two hours, followed by me. Next shift would go to the Daily Spectrum (St. George) and the last shift to the Deseret Morning News.
Doug had positioned the pool photographer in the best position to photograph the defendant (Jeffs), the attorneys, the judge, the gallery and even the witness stand. Photographing the witness stand would be mostly off-limits, however. This being a case alleging rape, there is an alleged victim. And for reasons of privacy, professional news outlets don’t generally name rape victims. So shooting the victim would be out of bounds, especially once the judge, James Shumate, issued an order forbidding photos of her and her family. Shumate rejected our (Doug’s) petition to photograph the victim in an unidentifiable way (her hands or something).
At the same time, Shumate had approved a remote camera that Doug set up with a tight shot at the witness stand and was triggered wirelessly from outside the courtroom. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to use it Tuesday, as the day’s witnesses were the victim and two of her sisters.
Things would work like this: Doug would shoot the first two hours, then I would jump in and take the pool spot. Immediately, Doug would begin transmitting his images to all pool outlets and worldwide through the AP feed. Doug had a computer set up with wireless Internet in the cry room adjoining the courtroom. From there, he could send photos and watch the proceedings (and trigger the remote witness camera) through a large glass window. When my shift was over (at the lunch break), Doug would make copies of my photographs and send them out. Through the day, from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., he sat at that computer moving photographs. No lunch. Maybe a bathroom break, but I’m not sure. I didn’t ask him about that.
More in part two…
Question: Why was defense attorney Walter Bugden wearing two different colored socks?
There were about 10 FLDS men, supporters of Warren Jeffs, in the courtroom showing their support for their prophet. Once Jeffs was seated at the defense table, he looked back and acknowledged each of them with a smile and nod. At the same time, a bunch of former FLDS members craned their necks from the back to get a look at the man who booted them out.
The first witness was a woman who, at the age of 19, married the then 83-year-old prophet Rulon Jeffs. She’s now around 30 and I never would have pictured her coming out of a fundamentalist background. She was a very confident witness, smiling at Warren Jeffs while testifying, “I had many talks with Warren.”
I’ll write more when I get a moment about photographing the hearing, the logistics of it all and how we did it. It was a great setup.
Assignment: Boom Times in Utah My editor called me Tuesday and asked, “Are you sitting down?”
Not knowing where this was going, I lied and kept standing.
“Believe it or not, I want to assign you to do one of your montage-composite things,” he said. “And it’s looking like it will run on A-1.”
Now this was a surprise. I’ve been doing a lot of multi-image pieces since 2002. I’ve put together hundreds of composites, panoramas, and tiled pieces like the one above. But as far as seeing them published, the odds are mostly stacked against them.
The photojournalism world is fixed on powerful single images and old school Life Magazine-type photo essays. Do something other than that and a lot of photographers/editors get uncomfortable. They like things the way they used to be, in that powerful, traditional style that has been around for decades. I like that, too. But sometimes I need to mix it up.
Every time we run one of these types of photographic compositions, someone from the other paper in town always comments on it. Without fail, every time. They tell me how they would never be able to publish anything like it in their paper. Just too radical for them.
After we published a few of these back in 2003, I realized that I had gotten way ahead of the photojournalism community. Every major photojournalism contest had rules that prohibited the techniques I was using (and still do). There was no way I could win awards with these images, aside from the in stepchild Illustration category, a catch-all for digital imagery (mostly photoshopped, cartoony images). And photographers I showed them to either loved them or hated them. There was no middle ground. (To be fair, when I was a young purist, I would have hated them, too.)
All that said, I don’t think that readers get wigged out by things that are different. I think they’re right there with me, taking in the message that the images are communicating.
An image like this is a collection of details. None of the photos by itself is any good. It’s only together, through their collective message, that the content is relayed. The sheer amount of help wanted signs demonstrates the amount of jobs available (in this case mostly retail and fast food jobs). It’s not pure black and white old school photojournalism, but to me, for some stories, here and there, it works.