Salt Lake City , Utah

Volleyball Practice

Assignment: University of Utah volleyball player Sydney Anderson, in practice Coach said they would be doing setting drills. The repetition of the drill made it perfect to line up for the perfect shot. Here’s the play-by-play commentary in my head as the shoot progressed:

Okay, this shot is horrible. You need to eliminate the distracting foreground elements. Come on, you can’t shoot her with that big stripe down the frame. Open your eyes, man!

Hey, where is the ball?! Get the ball in the shot. For heaven’s sake!

Okay, now you’ve got the ball, but that background is too busy. Get a better angle to clean it up!

Good. I think that’s it. Good choice to climb up on something. You lined up the school’s logo in the background and waited for a good moment, good expression, peak action. Now crop it and tone it and send it in.

This is the final file? Cool. This should work well.

Utah , United States

Progress

Went out and photographed Joanne Benfatti this week. She is a resident of the Meadows Mobile Home Park in Cottonwood Heights. The Meadows is in a wonderful location. Lots of trees, a beautiful mountain view, and the neighborhoods surrounding it are very high-end. There is the problem. The land the Meadows occupies is worth big money, even more when you sell it to developers looking to rezone, demolish the mobile home park, and build 30 new luxurious homes in its place. That’s what has happened to Benfatti and the other 274 people who lived in mobile homes at the Meadows– many of whom are poor and live on their Social Security, she told me. Benfatti has found a place to go, and some of her neighbors are moving there as well. For someone being displaced, she’s lucky. Still, she has had to pack up all her belongings and now she’ll literally cut her house in half to move it.

I drove through the Meadows and saw “For Sale” signs on dozens of mobile homes. I wonder where all these people will go, and who would buy these homes? A lot of them were old and worn, and mobile home “parks” seem to be disappearing in favor of modern condos and apartment blocks. With all the construction and development sprawl taking place all over urban Utah, it’s easy to tune out the impact on those in the way of society’s progress. “It’s like a bad dream that you can’t wake up from,” Benfatti told me. Here’s the view looking north, to the future:

Here’s the view looking south, to the past:

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

Salt Lake City , Utah

Photo Work Room

photo workroom. Salt Lake City – Utah Jazz vs. Portland Trailblazers.

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.

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