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.