Month: July 2007

7th Annual UNPA Awards Banquet

The other night a bunch of Utah photojournalists gathered at Lamb’s Cafe to honor the best work of last year. The results were in for the Utah News Photographers Association’s 2006 Photojournalism Competition.

Eli Lucero, a photographer at the Herald-Journal in Logan, was the contest coordinator this year. We took turns as emcee, switching off announcing the awards in each category. He announced the categories where Tribune photographers did well and I announced ones we where didn’t. It’s too weird to be announcing your own (or your co-workers’) awards, so this worked well. The Herald-Journal swept the sports feature category and I’m sure Eli was relieved not to have to announce his own first and third place wins. I’ll bet that no one there put it together- the reason we were switching off.

But talk about a tough group. Don’t think you can get up in front of this group of photographers and crack a few jokes to lighten the mood. These folks are tense! It’s always been this way at the awards banquet. Must be because they’re all stressed out wondering if they won or not. We tried to keep the mood light, but it’s like putting out a blazing inferno with a spray bottle. People are always tightly wound at this thing.

I’ll try to mention a lot of the awards in a future post. As a group, we Tribune photographers did very well. As an individual, I took home a couple of minor awards.

The highlight of the night was to see my colleague Leah Hogsten be named Photographer of the Year. After four years of coming so close to the title, she finally claimed it.

The POY trophy is a traveling trophy, like the less-presitigious Stanley Cup. The winner takes it to display at home or office.

Last year’s winner, Scott Winterton, took the thing home and did some serious refurbishing. What had previously been only a couple slabs of wood and a spray-painted old camera came back as a serious trophy, with custom woodwork with individual plaques for each of the seven photographers of the year we’ve named. The job he did in improving the trophy was some amazing craftsmanship. It’s now a serious object, and almost requires two people to carry. I can only imagine what will happen to it if he wins again. Big thanks to Scott.

In seven years, seven photographers have laid claim to the title of UNPA Photographer of the Year: Chuck Wing, Steve Griffin, Trent Nelson, Alan Murray, Rick Egan, Scott Winterton, Leah Hogsten.

No one has repeated. And several new talented faces have entered the market. Can’t wait to see who takes it home next year.

New Phones

We just updated our cellular plans at the paper and each photographer had the chance to pick out a new cel phone. There were a bunch of free models as well as some nicer phones if you wanted to pay a premium.

Watching our photographers choose phones was a lesson in personality.

The thoughtful perfectionists among us did a lot of research into the most reliable, best reviewed phones and picked the top-rated model.

The photographer who gets texts all day from his girlfriend looked into a model with fold-out keyboard.

I joined a small group who ordered the new chocolate phone (the LG VX8550).

All week I was asked why I chose that model. There is no real answer. There was no feature that sold me. In fact, I can’t even tell you what features this phone has. My decision was style over substance.

Simply put, it was the coolest phone available. And I don’t even care if it works or not.

Analyze that.

p.s. Apple’s iPhone wasn’t an option.

Suburban Polygamy – The Access Process

There was a lot of talking to do before I started photographing the family we covered in our story on suburban polygamy. We had to work out some access issues, especially regarding the family’s privacy. We agreed to not use their last name and that we wouldn’t reveal the city they live in. Then there were photo issues.

For example, who could I photograph? Two of the three wives agreed to be photographed, one did not. The husband was out of the question. It was essential to the family that his identity not be revealed. But he did agree to have unidentifiable parts of his body photographed. This little bit of access allowed me to incorporate the father of this family into the coverage, even if only as a symbol.

Before I started shooting, I needed to know how to handle photographing the children. The father gathered all of the children who were 12 or older. He explained what we were doing and let each of them decide whether or not they could be photographed. He went around the table, asking each one. I crossed my fingers, hoping for the best.

First teenager: “No.”

Okay, one down, I thought. Maybe the next one.

Next teenager: “No.”

OK, let’s hope this turns around.

Next teenager: “No.”

As the no’s continued, I realized I was watching dominoes fall. In the end, only one of the teenagers agreed to be photographed.

I assured the kids I would respect their decisions and keep their privacy, but from that point on the teenagers avoided me.

Suburban Polygamy

Our recent package on suburban polygamists was widely read. A polygamist family (three wives, 21 children) living in the Salt Lake Valley agreed to let us into their home to get a view of how families like this live.

The story first appeared online as a multimedia presentation that has recorded thousands and thousands of hits. Then the story was posted and the comments started pouring in. Right now, there are 120 comments about the story on our Web site and a handful of letters to the editor have been published.

While we did receive positive feedback, the published letters to the editor were all negative.

Some of those letters complained that the package was a pro-polygamy piece, that we were glorifying a practice that most of society disapproves of. They pointed out that polygamy is an illegal lifestyle and wondered why the Tribune was giving it “publicity.”

My feeling is that our package was fair and objective. We were providing our readers with an exclusive look into a society that lives in secret. We showed you what we saw in that home, and reported the subjects explaining their lifestyle in their own words.

Did this specific piece report on polygamist men facing jail time for various crimes? Or did it report on polygamist men who have served jail time for sexual crimes? Did it mention accusations of child abuse or welfare fraud?


Have we done stories on all of those topics?

Yes. Repeatedly. And we will continue to do so. We cover all facets of polygamy. This was just one story, one piece of the puzzle.

If you read our polygamy coverage day in and day out, you’ll find stories about crime, sex offenders, and shady characters. But you’ll also read about what polygamists believe and how they live in today’s modern world.

The Salt Lake Tribune is probably the only place you will find these stories being told.

The Suburban Polygamist story is just one part of the giant polygamy puzzle. It provides a look into a very unique home. These are the people who could be living on your street, and you’d probably have no idea.

The multimedia piece is here:

The story is here:

Brooke Adams’ Plurallife blog:

Grocery Shopping in Short Creek

One of the frustrations in covering polygamy has been access. We just never get enough of it. Keep in mind that polygamy is illegal. These people have a lot to lose if they’re exposed. So they’re not likely to risk their livelihood for me, a guy that they lump in with the rest of the bone-headed media.

In 1953, government agents raided Short Creek (now Hildale/Colorado City) and broke apart polygamist families, putting the men of the community in jail in attempt to put an end to the isolated polygamist community. The terror these families felt during this event fifty-four years ago still reverberates in many polygamists. Many still live in fear of another raid, and keep their family ties and beliefs secret from outsiders.

The last person they want around is a journalist. Much less a photographer.

On the flip-side, when I’m in these communities, I can’t help but notice all of the amazing photographs that are just outside my reach. This past week I was in the small grocery market in Colorado City, run by the FLDS. They don’t socialize with outsiders. They believe that in order to keep themselves at the highest spiritual level, they should have little or no contact with the outside world.

Outside the grocery is a young cowboy (boots, buckle, hat). He’s listening to an iPod. I wonder what he’s listening to? Home-recorded FLDS religious music? Sermons by Warren Jeffs?

Inside the grocery store are at least a dozen women in pioneer dresses with their hair pulled back in their distinctive braid and weave style. The photographer in me is leaping out of my skin, dying to photograph them, wanting to document this culture. But bringing a camera in here would have been like shouting “Fire!” in a theater.

Brooke and I buy some Gatorade, Pringles, and Chex Mix. That will have to pass for lunch on this hot July day. The cashier, a girl between 14 and 16 years old in a pioneer dress, smiles but doesn’t say a single word to us as she rings up our food. The bagger, another young girl, sends text messages on her cel phone and giggles in between bagging. Cel phones are very popular in Colorado City.

While we were in Colorado City someone told us a fun story about one of the old women of the FLDS community, who recently passed on. She used to run the cotton candy booth at community get-togethers. In order to entice buyers she would give a couple of boys a free cotton candy and send them out to walk through the crowd eating it. What a great tactic.

The Polygamy Team

There is so much I need to write about covering polygamy. So many people, stories, experiences, and challenges.

It’s been two years now since I started covering the polygamists of Utah and the West with Tribune staff writer Brooke Adams. It’s been a very rewarding partnership, like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my 19 year career.  We make a great team.

Aside from her reporting and writing skills, Brooke somehow keeps track of an unending cast of characters. (For example, we met a woman the other day who was related to her grandmother through three separate branches of the family tree.)

I bring the cameras and make observations, as well computer and tech skills. As a team, our standards are very high.

Brooke is the only full-time polygamy writer in, what, the world? She sets the pace and seems to never stop working. Her sources keep her cel phone ringing constantly. In the field, we start early and end late, working in remote environments where expense accounts go nowhere. And the day’s not over until I’ve finished a cheesecake or hot fudge sundae at the end of a late dinner.

I’ve learned so much about reporting in this time, sitting in on interview after interview. Some on the record, some off the record, some to never be mentioned. We’re covering people living an illegal lifestyle, and we also covering a closed, secretive community (the FLDS – Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). It’s been quite the adventure.

It would be wrong to not mention my predecessor on the polygamy beat photo-wise. I look at Leah Hogsten’s work, especially her 2001 essay on Tom Green’s family, as my goal for excellence.

Consider this the first of a few polygamy posts. I’ll start writing the next one immediately.


Over this past weekend I’ve been working in St. George. And it is hotter here than in Baghdad. At least we have power for our A/C, right?

I don’t think I’ve ever been this hot. Just standing in the sun you can feel your skin cooking. No joke. You need to get into the shade quickly, as you can feel your life slipping away in the sunlight.

The reporter had left me a voicemail, listing several options for a photograph for the record heat wave. I chose the swimming pool, for obvious reasons.

One of the biggest frustrations in my career has come every time I’ve been sent to a swimming pool in the heat of summer. Every bit of my body is screaming at me to drop my gear and jump into the pool. If only I could…

After a few minutes in the heat photographing people enjoying the cool water, I began to feel faint. With my back to the sun I could feel my calves and neck burning. After I had a few choices I made it back to the locker room, where a sign announced I was in a “high theft risk area.” I set down my cameras, went into the showers, and dipped my head into a stream of cold water. Saved.

Edgy Books

The assignment was to photograph Jennifer Nielsen, in the pop culture section at Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. The story was to be about “a recent publishing trend towards edgy, quasi-experimental fiction by 20-something authors. Many of these novels, influenced by today’s visual-information society, incorporate artwork into the pages or blend text with comic strips to tell stories in new ways.”

Telling stories in new ways. I like that idea. And I love these books. Visible in the frame is the excellent read, “Dishwasher,” and several other titles that I’ve enjoyed.

I made a couple of safe shots of Jennifer. With those safe in the can I got creative and made the above photograph. The story ran today, with one of my safe shots. Here is the layout:

You can read Brandon Grigg’s article here:

The Fire

Saturday we were driving through the rural community of Neola, in eastern Utah, looking for the Houston home. The day before, George Houston and his son Tracy died (along with Roger Roberson) when a wildfire swept through a hay field. We were looking for family members, hoping they will be willing to tell us about these two men. Who were they? And what has this community lost in their passing?

We finally get close and were pointed toward the right house. It’s off down a dirt lane from the road, like a hundred places you’ve seen in the movies, with a mailbox out at the main road and Forrest Gump running down the lane. The reporter asks if we should drive down the dirt road, but I want to walk it. Walking the road sends a message but more than that, I feel like we have to walk. Others are walking ahead of us, holding hands and comforting each other. I put one camera and two lenses into a bag, latch it shut, and start walking.

At the house there are family members with teary red eyes on the front porch. Others stand on the lawn and watch the massive fire off in the distance, still burning and sending enormous clouds of smoke into the air. A steady stream of guests brings those offering embraces, food, and comfort to the two women who lost their husbands yesterday.

We are introduced to Margie Houston, who lost her husband of 44 years as well as one of her sons. JaLynn Houston joins us, Tracy’s wife. They tell us about these two men, who worked their entire lives to provide for their ten children. Margie’s granddaughter Marlise sits down and grips her grandmother’s hand. Only then do I pull the camera out of my bag.

As we sit and listen, I’m constantly aware of the need to show respect to these people who have lost so much. Looking around at the family who have gathered to listen, I feel an enormous responsibility to tell their story. I put my camera on single-shot and click off a frame or two of Margie and Marlise’s clasped hands, with Margie’s wedding ring visible. It’s a powerful detail, but also my way of easing the camera into the situation. Move slowly, and start with a detail. Let them know that I’m trying to share their story, not exploit it.

As we continue, the emotions rise and fall. Marlise leans in and gives her grandmother a hug. I raise the camera and take one frame. A moment later the situation repeats and I take one more.

I look on the camera’s LCD to confirm that I captured the moment. And then I just sit and listen. If another moment appears, I’ll be ready. But otherwise, the camera will stay in my lap.

Duane Houston, 11 years old, was in the hay field with his father and grandfather when the fire came. His grandfather yelled at him, telling him to run. Duane ran for it, as fast as he could through the trees and over two fences. He escaped, covered in soot.

I asked the family if I could photograph Duane. His siblings and cousins were hopping into the back of a pickup. Duane stood for the photograph and then ran off to climb in the truck with the other kids.

Once I left the Houston family, my mind turned back to my own superficial life with its trivial concerns, like what podcast should I listen to and where should I eat dinner. I drove into town and edited and sent my photos over dinner with my colleague, Tribune photographer Danny Chan La. Then I drove home, listening to music, returning to my family.

My sons called as I drove. The house was too hot and they wanted to sleep outside in the backyard. But they were scared to do it alone. They would only do it if I would join them.

I thought of how tired I was from the long day of driving and work. I thought of the early appointments I had the next day and how little sleep I would get if I was outside on the ground in a sleeping bag.

Then I thought of Duane, his father, and his grandfather.

“Of course I’ll sleep outside with you guys,” I said.