Salt Lake City , Utah

Not Tripping the Shutter

September 11, 2001. A prayer for the dead, University of Utah.

The Columbia Journalism Review had an interesting piece Thursday about various approaches photojournalists took to photograph the Amish while covering the murder-suicide in Pennsylvania.Most of the photographers told of showing a certain amount of restraint, as photography is not acceptable to the Amish faith.

As I read that piece, I thought back to September 11, 2001. After the terrorist attack, every Tribune photographer was sent out to photographer. Everyone but me. My then-editor told me, “Looks like you’ll just have a slow day in the lab today.” Of course, I wasn’t going to sit around and relax. I went out to find a photo.

I went to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City. The church was holding a prayer service, opening its doors for people to come mourn for the as-yet-unknown number of victims at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. This was early in the afternoon of the attacks, and I can’t remember if Orrin Hatch had leaked that it was bin Laden yet.

It was a very uncertain time, and the church was filled with people who were in shock, confused, and, frankly, terrified. Being a photographer in this situation can be very difficult. The last thing you want to do is further upset people.

From the spot where I was allowed to be in, I wasn’t seeing the deep emotion I was after. The shots just weren’t there. Then a woman walked in and sat a couple rows behind me. She was flat-out bawling. Tears were streaming down her face. I was staring at an award-winning photograph waiting to be taken. It would clearly lead off my portfolio for the year. I quickly checked my camera settings and focus, then looked to her. I didn’t feel right taking her picture without her knowing I was there. She was too vulnerable.

After a moment she looked up through her tears. I made a gesture to the camera and then to her, asking permission non-verbally. She shook her head no, and was clearly distressed. I gestured back that I understood, and then DID NOT take the amazing, award-winning photograph that was right in front of me.

For the rest of the day I rushed around town looking for some kind of reaction to the terrorist attacks. Later that evening I found a group of students praying at the University of Utah. It was a nice moment, and one of those photographs made the paper.

September 11, 2001. A prayer for the dead, University of Utah.

But for weeks I thought about the woman in tears. Did I make the right decision? Should I have made the photograph even without her permission? I mean, this was history, right? I continually re-played the moment and thought about the decision I had made. One thing I realized, I had no idea if this woman was crying about 9/11; She could have been going through any number of personal issues. But I was still unsettled about it.

Weeks later I was talking to another Tribune photographer about everything that was happening in the wake of 9/11. I built up my courage and told the story of the photo I didn’t take. To my astonishment, rather than pitying me, my colleague had an identical story from the same day. He also had put down the camera on 9/11 while staring at a similarly emotional moment out of respect for the wishes of his subject. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone in putting someone’s well-being ahead of my portfolio.

To be perfectly clear, if I had been photographing on that day in New York City or Washington, I would have shot the photo without hesitation. That was history, and such an important story to tell. I feel the news value of the situation would have outweighed the intrusion had I been covering the physical impact of the event.

Photographing the impact in faraway Utah, I just couldn’t pull the trigger. Maybe I was wrong, but this was different. Even without the photo I didn’t take, the story of 9/11’s impact on Utah was well told in pictures by me and many others.

September 11, 2001. A prayer for the dead, University of Utah.

Here’s the link to the CJR story on photographing the Amish.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Salt Lake City , Utah

In Memorium: Sensei Mark

Sensei passed away last week. We just got the news. There is so much you could say about Sensei Mark Riggs. He volunteered his time twice a week to pass on his passion – Karate. We’ll miss you, Mark.

Mark’s obituary is here.

Draper , Utah

Parole Hearings

I’m sent down to the Utah State Prison in Draper to photograph the parole hearing of Melinda Chasteen. Chasteen was, at 16, the youngest inmate at the prison when she arrived with a 5-years-to-life sentence for attempted aggravated murder. (While this post refers to other inmates, the photographs here are of Chasteen’s hearing only.)

A trip to the prison is unnerving even when you know that you’ll be getting out after a couple hours. They buzz me in and it’s an uneasy feeling as the gate closes behind me and I’m surrounded by fences and razor wire. I enter a building to check in.

Checking in at the same time as me are members of the Chasteen family. They’re immediately very curious who the guy with the cameras is. The officer at the door asks if I’m media. I affirm.

“What’s the media for?” asks a woman who I assume is Chasteen’s mother.

“The hearing is open to the public,” says the officer.

The woman bursts into tears.

A moment later she asks me, “What media are you?”

I tell her I’m with the Tribune, as her daughters try to get her to stop asking me questions. She says, “(The media is) always talking shit.”

Fortunately for all, the officer separates us, leaving them in a waiting room and taking me into the hearing room. There are two parole hearings before Chasteen’s, so I sit and listen to the proceedings.

The first inmate, an older man, bald, is brought in and told to sit down and face forward at all times. He’s dressed in white, with UDC INMATE written in block letters on his back. There’s one woman running the hearing. She asks him, “How are you doing?”

“Well,” says the inmate.

“You haven’t caught one of these colds that’s going around?”

“No,” the inmate says. “I’ve escaped them.” Great choice of words.

Seated in the gallery behind the inmate are some of his victims and their family members. Seated a few rows behind them are members of the inmate’s family and a friend or two.

The inmate has been diagnosed as a pedophile, and takes some time listing his history, his victims. Here are some of the things he said:

“I was hoeing beets in the beet field and four of the workers showed their genitalia.”

“I have a lot of disputes with my thinking errors.”

“I have a list of 84 thinking errors.”

He tells the parole board that he considers himself only a moderate risk if he were let loose, not a high-risk re-offender. And he disputes the pedophile diagnosis, insisting he wasn’t attracted to prepubescent boys, saying, “My youngest victim was twelve…and he was asleep.”

They gave the victims a chance to address the parole board. One man, the husband of a woman who was molested by her uncle when she was a child, fights to speak through tears and emotion. He barely gets through his final statement, which was, “I would rather take my own life than see one more person go through the horror my wife went through. I would do it in a minute.”

The next hearing involved another child molester. One of his victims wanted to address the parole board, and the molester was removed from the room for her comfort. She said she didn’t think he would ever change, and said, “He used to throw baby rabbits to his dog and watch his dog kill them.”

Earlier in the day, I had thought about how interesting it would be to sit in these hearings. I wondered if there would be members of the public sitting in the gallery just to watch. Like in a courthouse, people will show up just to listen. No one who wasn’t directly involved in the cases was here for the parole hearings. And after listening to what these two men had done, I realized why no one would come to watch this. There is no joy here. Bad things happened, and whether or not someone is granted parole, the stories will always remain tragic. Those words may sound stupid, reading it on your computer screen, but it’s what I’m brought to after sitting there hearing graphic details of children being sexually assaulted.

Chasteen’s hearing was next. I was too busy photographing to take notes. Of the three convicts, she seemed to recognize where she was and why. She said she understood she would have to serve the time her crime warranted.

After the hearing she was allowed a brief moment with her family. They told her they loved her and encouraged her to take advantage of the programs that would help her. Chasteen wiped the tears from her eyes and was led back into the prison, only 19 years old.

Centennial Park , Arizona

Fundamentalist Bread

A couple weeks ago I photographed Candice White with her three children. White was a plural wife, the second spouse of polygamist Gary D. White, who passed away earlier this year. White lives in Centennial Park, Ariz., a fundamentalist community just over Utah’s southern border.

As they waited for me to set up the lights in the Tribune’s photo studio, I told them of my last trip to Centennial Park, in July. We had been invited into the home of a polygamist family, but only on background. We would just be observing, not taking notes, and certainly not photographs.

We were welcomed into the home and watched one of the sister wives baking loaves of bread. The scene was so beautiful and warm we just had to bring out the camera. The agreement was made to photograph only the bread, and the hands baking it. And yes, it was very tasty.

Salt Lake City , Utah


Salt Lake City – Heather Armstrong is the writer behind the popular blog Dooce, where she writes about her life as the mother of her daughter Leta Armstrong, wife to husband Jon Armstrong, and her ongoing struggles with depression. The family dog Chuck makes frequent appearances in photos on the blog.
Photo by Trent Nelson; 10.04.2006

Heather Armstrong, John Armstrong,

Heather Armstrong, John Armstrong,

Salt Lake City , Utah

The World of Dooce

Originally published October 14, 2006

Assignment: Heather Armstrong is the writer behind Dooce, one of the top blogs in the world. She writes about parenting, depression and life.

Early on in the process, Tribune reporter Matt Canham filled me in on this story and I spent a couple weeks poring over the Dooce site. After reading pages and pages of her posts, and looking at dozens of her photographs, I was hooked. Dooce posts very candid pieces about parenting, depression and just plain life. Every post grabs you, both funny and tragic.

Matt and I went over to the Armstrongs’ home and I couldn’t have felt more welcome. Heather (Dooce) and Jon Armstrong could very well have been close friends of mine for decades. We live in the same neighborhood, in homes that are small and cozy with beautiful woodwork, well-stocked bookcases and framed photographs all over the walls. We share musical interests and religious upbringings. The more we talked, the more we had in common. I even realized I had photographed Jon’s ska band Swim Herschel Swim in Provo back in 1989.

But there were photos to be taken. I didn’t know how it would end up. My plan was to go in and just shoot a bunch of photos with a 50mm lens using available light- just like Dooce does. We talked and I photographed. Leta, their daughter, watched a DVD while eating lifesavers and chewing blue gum.

After a couple of hours, the energy in the room was dying down. The moments were appearing less and less. I left, worried that I really didn’t have that one image that told the story. I hadn’t set up a portrait as insurance. I had just clicked off a bunch of photographs.

When I sat down at the computer, the real work began. In the editing process, I pieced things together and found images that told the story. In the composite above (which was not published in the Tribune) I captured the people, the story. In the composite, Heather and Jon are talking about how personal (and often embarrassing) her writing is, especially when she writes about their relationship. She seems to be laughing from somewhere within, aware that her writing has often gone off like a bomb on those around her, but she means no harm. It’s just who she is. Jon seems to be reacting with, “please don’t post that unflattering quip about me, but even if you do I’ll always love you.” Leta is being her cute self, up top, watching from her innocent spot, symbolically above it all. Even Chuck the family dog makes an appearance. The lamps illustrate the warmth I felt in their home and the sippy cup and basket of childrens’ books represent the parenting process Dooce is famous for writing about.

The hours I spent editing and building this unpublished composite weren’t a total waste. The layout in the paper mimicked some of what I had done, and captured the interplay between the Armstrong family. But I can’t deny I prefer the composite.

Chuck the dog makes frequent appearances in Dooce’s photographs, often balancing objects on his head. And Leta was so cute watching her DVD and eating candy. She is so used to be photographed (by her parents) that she completely tuned me out. Thanks to the Armstrongs for letting me peek into the world of Dooce. You can read Heather’s wonderful work here.

Salt Lake City , Utah

Candice White

Salt Lake City – Candice White, a resident of Centennial Park, Arizona, with her children Charlie Ann White (left, 11), Gary Ryan White (center, 7), and Kelly Elaine White (right, 13). ; 9.30.2006

Salt Lake City , Utah

Kim Phuc Phan Ti

Salt Lake City – Kim Phuc Phan Ti, the girl from the famous Vietnam napalm photo, was the keynote speaker at the YWCA Centennial Leader Luncheon at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
; 9.22.2006
Salt Lake City – Kim Phuc Phan Ti, the girl from the famous Vietnam napalm photo, was the keynote speaker at the YWCA Centennial Leader Luncheon at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
; 9.22.2006

Salt Lake City , Utah

Into the Contact Sheet

An assignment yesterday took me to the Utah State Capitol to photograph Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. signing a new tax bill into law. Never mind what the bill does tax-wise. That’s certainly not important. Not here in the blog, anyway. What is important is that you are about to see some photos that are never seen. The fun ones. These are the shots that normally end up in a drawer and are certainly not published.

Everything starts out good. I love working with reflections, and the table in the conference room makes for a very cool shot of the Gov. Quick side note: I was flying on his plane one time, headed to cover some massive floods in St. George. He pointed to my Spinal Tap baseball cap and listed the best comedies (in his opinion) of the past three decades. 1980’s: This is Spinal Tap. 1990’s: Dumb and Dumber. 2000’s: Napoleon Dynamite.

Okay, now I’ve got a good shot of the Gov in the can. He’s still talking so I get an overall. I’m shooting a ton of these photographs lately. With the equipment I’m using now, these composite panoramas give me a lot of detail and when I print them up on large roll paper they are very cool to pore over. They also give more historical context than a lot of what we do on a daily basis. Look at the photographs of the early West and you’ll see a lot of this wide stuff that gets all the detail. I’ve got hundreds of these now from all over.

After the Gov speaks, it’s a parade of politicians getting up to thank so and so and praise the bill. One of the TV reporters is actually signaling his cameraman as each one gets up, saying, “Don’t roll on this guy.” Sometimes in the middle of one of their speeches he’ll tell the guy to turn the camera on, but it’s usually for a quick sound bite. If only they knew, but of course they do. No disrespect to these guys, but their talks just weren’t doing it for me either. Certainly not visually. This is where the photographer gets bored and you start to goof around, like the photo above, of Sen. Curtis Bramble.

After Bramble sits down, I try to zoom in on his ID badge. At this point I don’t know his name. It’s a simple face-saving measure; I’m trying to get his name without having to ask. I can’t come back to the paper without knowing his name, and there is nothing worse than having to go up to some of the most powerful men in the state to ask them what their name is. I’m supposed to know this stuff. But really, who does? People might recognize the Gov, but no one on the street would recognize any of these other guys. Sorry, but it’s true. After my failure to photograph his nametag clearly, I start thinking about how I’ll ask his name. I figure I’ll start with, “Pardon my ignorance, sir, but could I ask your name?”

After six men talk, a woman gets her say. It’s Rep. Rebecca Lockhart. The prankster in me just can’t resist taking the photograph.

The last speaker gets up, Senator Sheldon Killpack. I turn to the reflective surface of the table again for inspiration, though I know it is unlikely this photograph will ever be published.

Finally they go to sign the bill and a bunch of politicians crowd around the Gov. Senate President John Valentine cracks a joke (he’s at left for those of you who can’t recognize these guys).

The Gov signs. I try a tight shot cropping out the other people.

Then I shoot a little looser as they applaud the bill. One politician jumps into the photo and before I can ask his name he’s gone. A reporter back at the paper identifies him for me; it’s Fred Fife. I’ve met Fife and taken his photograph before, but for the life of me I didn’t remember his name. Guess I’m not covering politics enough.

Out of the 178 photographs I shot at this 20-minute event, this is the photograph that runs in the paper.

Provo , Utah


Provo – BYU quarterback Jason Beck, photographed during and after the team’s practice.
Photo by Trent Nelson; 9.20.2006

Salt Lake City , Utah

Tax Bill Signed

Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr signs a tax bill into law at a press conference. 9.20.2006

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