The Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists awarded my photo essay on the Whitehorse High School girls basketball team an honorable mention last month.
The project included amazing work from writers Lya Wodraska and Phil Miller and designer Colin Smith. For some reason, the quality of the package wasn’t reflected in contest wins. I don’t know why it didn’t do better (I’m not talking about the photo essay entry, but the writing and special project entries – as a package this project was truly five star).
More importantly, the story resonated with readers, illustrating the ups and downs of life on the Navajo Nation and the economic hardships faced by those living on the reservation. For a community that doesn’t get much coverage, I hope we did well by you.
Here is the essay:
There are few ways out for children living on the economically depressed Navajo Nation. Basketball is one way, with the dream of a college scholarship hanging within reach of just a few. Eight-year-old Tilton Dennison shoots baskets on a rickety hoop outside his home on the Navajo Nation near Aneth, Utah.
Whitehorse High School’s star player, Derica Dickson, prowls alone in the locker room focusing on the upcoming game at home vs. San Juan High School. All season long, Dickson felt the pressure to perform in order to secure a college scholarship.
The Whitehorse Raiders gather in a circle before their first game in the state basketball tournament, where they faced Meridian High School at the Sevier Valley Center, Snow College, Richfield. Whitehorse went on to rout Meridian 51-25.
On an emotional Senior Night, the Whitehorse High School girls basketball team tearfully embrace their former coach, Justin Moon. The team would go on to a win over visiting Rock Point.
The Whitehorse High School girls basketball team passes the time on a long bus ride to play rival San Juan high school in Blanding. CD players, iPods, homework, and naps all make the long road trips bearable. The Raiders travel to schools as far away as three hours during their regular season.
Left to right: Shawnarae Lee, Alex Lee, and Vanessa Whitehorse during a rest stop on a long bus ride to play rival San Juan high school in Blanding. In this remote part of Utah, cel phones come out as people re-enter cel coverage zones so they can check their messages.
Dancers prepare to perform in a pow-wow at Whitehorse High School on the Navajo Nation.
The long walk home for two Whitehorse High School students dropped by bus at the end of a gravel road. The school’s boundaries cover hundreds of square miles, and some students are dropped off as much as five miles from home.
Graduating Whitehorse seniors Cornelia Yellowman (left) and Vanessa Whitehorse prepares for the school’s graduation ceremony. The school graduated 45 students in the class of 2006.
Thanks again to the Dine of Aneth and Montezuma Creek for allowing me to watch your lives. I won’t forget you.
Saturday night I was assigned to the Real Salt Lake game. On our schedule was another assignment that was marked as a “no go.” We just didn’t have enough photographers to staff it. The assignment was the Deftones concert.
I used to go see the Deftones play at Berkeley Square, back when all they had out was a demo tape. So when I was finished with Real, I decided to hurry down to the club and see if I could get something for the paper. Time was of the essence. I only had a few minutes to get there.
I drove across town through about eighteen stoplights and then saw a sign on the club’s marquee: “Show moved to Salt Palace.” I doubled back, found a parking spot on Main Street, and started running.
Even with the sun down it was so dry and hot. After running only a block I’m completely dehydrated. But I make it to the Salt Palace, and notice two other people reading a flyer on the door.
It’s a skinny scene kid in tight black jeans and a teenage girl in a tiny black tank-top. They’re drunk. The flyer on the door says that the entrance to the show is clear on the other side of the Salt Palace. So I’ve got to run another three blocks. The kids follow.
As we run the girl she asks me my name several times. I tell her my first name. The guy tells her to stop talking. She asks me if I’m on MySpace so she can look me up. The girl complains that she needs water. My throat is completely dry. We walk for a minute to catch our breath.
The girls says to the guy, “I’m getting fake boobs this summer. Isn’t that cool?”
“That’s cool,” he says.
I start running again. So does the guy. The girl says, “Don’t run guys!” She’s begging. “Really! Don’t run!” We keep running.
Finally I get to the right door. I can hear the Deftones playing, which is a problem since I’m only allowed to shoot the first three songs. The woman at the door says it’s their fourth song but she gives me a photo pass and sends me in as if it’s no problem.
In front of me a security guard searches the girl I ran with. As he pats her down, she moves up close and rubs her body against his. He waves me in without a search.
Inside, the girl grabs my face, moves in close and says, “You’re name’s Mike, right?”
I make my way to the front of the packed hall finding an opening on the right side of the stage where a friendly security guy lets me stand up on the barricade. I take a few quick frames as the song ends, just to check my exposure.
Seconds later a big scruffy guy comes over and rips the photo pass from my shirt. (Big scruffy guys like this are usually the tour managers.) He’s belligerent. He says I can’t shoot, that I’m late, and that he doesn’t care if I watch the show, but no more photos. Over the years I’ve learned that there is no arguing with a tour manager.
So much for those cool photographs I was after. So much for rescuing the canceled assignment. And so much for a photograph of the Deftones to go with our concert review, because I don’t have anything worth putting my name under.
I start to walk the five blocks back to my car, thinking that even if I had a good photograph I shouldn’t send it in. They don’t deserve to have it published. Maybe it’s time to protest the ridiculous “first three songs only” rule.
The rules of concert photography are bullshit. You wonder if great concert photographs are even being made anymore. Sure, it’s fun playing with the colorful lighting of a modern concert, but I’ve never taken a concert photograph with soul under these tight rules.
I think back to the amazing work of photographers like Jim Marshall, who shot amazing candids that captured the passion and genius of legendary performers like Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash.
The photographs I took of the Deftones back in 1994 had that feel. Their shows then, in a small dingy club, were full of energy and magic and my photographs captured that.
When I got home I called the office and reported that I had been kicked out of the show and wouldn’t be sending a photo. Later I looked at the meager six frames, finding one that wasn’t completely awful.
I sent it in. What can I say? I love the Deftones. But this is, hands down, the worst photo I’ve taken of them.
This really ticked me off. Because it wasn’t one of the new people. This was a reporter that I’ve worked with for twelve years.
I shrugged it off and went on with the shoot.
And later I realized that in some cases it’s better to be unknown.
So just to be clear, I’m not Rick or Steve. I don’t look anything like Al, Paul, or Jim. And I’m not Fran or Chris or Leah or Danny.
Whether you believe him to be a prophet of God or not, you’ve got to be impressed with LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s stamina. At the age of 96, he leads a worldwide religion. And retirement is not an option. I’ve been on assignments following him throughout the United States and across Africa, and I’ve often found myself struggling to keep up with his fast pace. He seems to have hidden reservoirs of energy.
But as he ages, some are growing concerned with the image of him aging. There are those who would rather we not see photos that show the effects of age on the venerable church president. Maybe they think that such images highlight some sort of weakness on Hinckley’s part, or that seeing his physical frailty undermines the faith of his followers.
I disagree. President Hinckley is still coming to work every day, seemingly as sharp of mind as always. To me, this photograph of him walking into general conference illustrates that. Sure, he’s carrying his familiar cane and being helped to his seat by his secretary, Michael Watson. But remember, he is 96 years old. I feel that this photo says what I’m writing here: that the man is aging and yet still sharp of mind and wit.
I worry that with Hinckley getting older, the people overly concerned with his image may limit photographic access. And I don’t think these directives will come from Hinckley. The man is as humble as they come.
In the past, as church leaders Spencer Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson grew older, certain “close up” photos were discouraged. Access was limited. I work with one photographer, Rick Egan, who says he was once prevented from photographing Kimball in his later years. Here are Rick’s photos of that moment from a general conference in 1985:
Hopefully those times are in the past. I don’t think a photograph of an aging Hinckley affects anyone’s beliefs. If you believe that the man is a prophet of God, a photograph that shows he’s getting older shouldn’t alter your beliefs. And those who disbelieve will continue to do so.
As contest season winds down a couple more awards appeared on my desk at the Tribune.
My work covering polygamy last year was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists Utah Headliners Chapter.
The judges said, “The photographer overcame so many challenges in telling this story. Nice images of a seldom-viewed subject.”
Very true. Working the polygamy beat has been very rewarding, as I’ve met so many interesting people on all sides of the issue. But it’s also been very frustrating because I can see the amazing photographs just out of my reach. If only I could get better access! To all of you who let us in and let me photograph at least some part of your lives, my deepest thanks.
Here is my winning essay, The Hidden Face of Polygamy:
Polygamist Kelly Fischer covers his face as he walks into the Kingman, Arizona courthouse facing charges of sex with a minor. Fischer, a follower of FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, was found guilty and sentenced to six weeks in jail after fathering a child with his 16-year-old stepdaughter, who he had taken as a plural wife.
On the wall in polygamist Marvin Wyler’s Colorado City, Arizona home are portraits of his 34 children. Wyler was kicked out of Warren Jeffs’ FLDS Church and has since been trying to find his own spiritual path as an independent fundamentalist.
Polygamist Winston Blackmore (right) bids one of his children goodbye in the morning as one of his young wives leads others away. Some of Blackmore’s wives (he has an estimated fifteen to twenty wives) live in the motel-like building in the background, on a rural farm in Lister, British Columbia.
Elsie Blackmore picks dandelions on her family’s rural farm in Lister, British Columbia. Blackmore is one of nearly one-hundred children fathered by polygamist Winston Blackmore.
Maraya Blackmore covers her ears as her sister Sally Blackmore tunes an electric guitar during a rehearsal of the family rock band. With nearly one-hundred brothers and sisters, there is always an activity going on and someone to play with on the family farm in Lister, British Columbia.
Candice White, the second wife and widow of polygamist Gary White, is facing difficulties getting her share of her husband’s social security benefits for her children. As polygamy is illegal, wives taken after the first are wed in a spiritual marriage which is not legally binding. White’s children are Charlie Ann White (left, 11), Gary Ryan White (center, 7), and Kelly Elaine White (right, 13).
Young men from the polygamist community The Work, in Centennial Park, Arizona, spend two years of their lives serving the community in work missions. Families in the community take turns feeding large groups of these missionaries as they work construction or other jobs, help the needy, and do volunteer work.
Gary Engels, Mohave County’s Investigator, has been assigned to investigate crimes in the isolated polygamist community of Colorado City, Arizona. Engels faces an especially challenging law enforcement task in a closed community where nearly every resident refuses to talk to him, leaving him isolated and and worn down.
A large truck trailing Investigator Gary Engels’ every move is a show of intimidation by Warren Jeffs’ FLDS church security. Engels has been assigned to investigate crimes in the isolated polygamist community of Colorado City, Arizona and is also trying to locate the polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, who was then on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list.
Handcuffed and flanked by Las Vegas Metro Police Department SWAT officers, FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs appeared before Judge James M. Bixler in the Clark County Regional Justice Center. Jeffs waived an extradition hearing, agreeing to be returned to Utah to face charges related to allegedly arranging an underage marriage. Jeffs is considered a prophet of God to his estimated 10,000 polygamist followers scattered throughout the North American continent.
As promised, my second place sports feature photo, awarded by the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press Association.
Box Elder softball players celebrate their 4A high school softball championship win over Murray. At center facing camera is shortstop Bricki Asay.