Originally published November 7, 2008.
Just minutes after I photographed the food I noticed that a bus had pulled up down the street. Even in the dark I could see the heads of children on the bus.
It was really dark, but I had a fast 50/1.4 lens that would let me shoot without flash. I quickly snapped the photo above as a test frame to check my exposure. The women and children walked to the First Baptist Church and I clicked off twenty quick frames in the dark.
That photo ended up being used all over the place. Looking through all twenty frames, I see that some of the children noticed me and others appeared not to. Here are more frames, some of which have never been published before:
I wrote this about the technical aspect of shooting the photo on the blog back in April:
A few notes about the photo, which I feel captures an historic moment in the FLDS story. First, there had to be some sensitivity in the taking of the photograph. Luckily, I brought along a 50/1.4 lens so that I wouldn’t need to use flash. Popping a flash at children who were just taken from their parents and homes would not have been compassionate. Like a good backpacker, I wanted to leave a minimal footprint. So I shot available light, something like 1/30th at f1.4 at ISO 800. Maybe when I’m actually awake I’ll actually tone and sharpen it for you, but it’s been a long day.
Back then I also wrote a bit about how the volunteers (and knowing more now, CPS) didn’t want me there and definitely didn’t want any photographs taken. But we were standing on a public sidewalk so there was little they could do.
Immediately after shooting this sequence I walked across the street to the car and began sending photos back to the office, just ahead of deadline. Then I went back to look for more photo possibilities. You can see how the doors to this room of the church have vertical slit windows. I could see the occasional FLDS woman through these windows but before I got a shot off a short-haired woman with light-colored pants (she’s in the last two photos above) approached me with several other locals. One was the mayor of Eldorado. They were very angry at my presence.
The mayor asked who I was and what I was doing there. I told him. The woman asked if I had taken any photos. I said yes. Around this point an officer led me off to the side away from the group and told me that while he knew I had every right to photograph from the sidewalk, these locals were really pissed off that I was there and if I stayed much longer, he wouldn’t be able to guarantee my safety.
We evaluated the situation and decided to leave, knowing we had the shot (which would run across the entire width of the next day’s front page) and knowing we would be back early in the morning. I wrote this back then about us leaving:
Some of the volunteers at the church clearly didn’t want me taking photographs. They were good people looking out for the FLDS, who are very private people. I can understand their feelings. But this is an important story. I try to work with the same compassion they were feeling for the children. Once we had the photo, we left. In the morning we’ll go back and hopefully it will be more obvious that while we’re serious journalists, we’re not “THE MEDIA.”
My perception has changed substantially from what I wrote then. While there were privacy expectations (as there would be in any child-protective action), the story of the YFZ Raid was heavily media-managed from the start. In some cases they were following official policy and/or state law, but Texas officials would limit access to the photography of this story nearly every step of the way.