I show up late to the Tom Green County Courthouse and fire off this frame of the scene before running over to join the throng. There’s a hearing today on the legality of the raid. And you know, for the Utah media, this building being named after Tom Green is quite ironic. Tom Green was Utah’s most famous/notorious polygamist earlier in the decade.
I’m not on this side of the cameras because I want to be on TV. It seems important to show the cameras, the amount of them, etc.
On a story like this you try to photograph everyone going in, whether you know who they are or not. We knew who Willie was. The guy at center, we’d spend a good part of the day figuring out who he was.
After the FLDS woman goes in, the waiting game begins. They have to come out eventually, so we sit and wait.
A microphone stand is set up at the bottom of the courthouse steps and everyone adds their mic to the mix. When everyone leaves this hearing, no one will stop to talk.
There were a few FLDS members still on the ranch. Like the woman (or man?) in the photo above watching me with binoculars.
Most were men, but then here’s a woman in a blue dress looking off a balcony.
Here are four men walking to a building. Notice the numbers painted on the sidewalk. These were markings made by law enforcement to track the various buildings on the ranch.
I started photographing this group of men…
…as they walked across the ranch.
They approached this building and gathered with others.
Law enforcement from local, state, and federal agencies had set up a base at the FLDS temple.
A guy with a camera was at the top of the temple steps…
…and you can see the door which was breached.
I saw these guys from afar, seated against the wall. I thought they may have been detainees but they’re just cops eating dinner.
Here’s the chow line. And here is something that’s never been reported. I just noticed it while editing through the aerial photographs…
This guy in the yellow shirt, it looks like his dinner blew away and he had to reach down and grab it. Then, at the end there, he drops something else. Breaking news!
Here are police at the main entrance to the ranch on county road 300.
My fellow photographers at The Salt Lake Tribune and I have started up a new blog to showcase our best work.
You’ll also see photographs there that don’t make the paper or website, and you can rate our work by judging each post. (The author of the highest ranked post each month gets a prize.) Each photographer has a bio page where you can leave comments and converse.
Here’s the link: http://blog.tribphoto.com
We had been told that the airspace over the YFZ Ranch was shut down for another week, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to get any aerial shots until then. Since we had no expectation that the FLDS would ever allow us onto their most private of property, shots from the air were the only way we could see the place and try understand the situation. I got a sudden call late on April 8th from another photographer, telling me that there was a guy with a small helicopter giving people flights over the ranch. The airspace had unexpectedly opened. I ran to the car and hurried over to Eldorado before the sun went down.
The first thing you notice is the massive scale of the YFZ Ranch. The amount of labor it must have taken to build this place…
Notice that the garden areas are built up on about three feet of topsoil that was trucked in and put down over the natural rocky ground.
It’s like a small town, with its own maintenance facilities, etc.
A new guard tower was under construction. Here’s the view of the guard tower looking up the only road in or out.
Another day, another press conference. At this point Marleigh Meisner is one of our only sources of information, as the FLDS aren’t talking much.
The press conferences have been moved into the auditorium of an art museum. Finally enough room for all of the cameras.
At the end Marleigh gets swarmed by reporters asking further questions. I have audio of all of this, which I need to go back and listen to. In fact, that’s my blurry hand holding what looks like an electric razor. It’s the audio recorder we got, replacing the older model that looked like a stun gun. People are much more receptive to me holding an electric razor up to their face than they were with the stun gun.
This panorama of the scene was built automatically by PhotoShop, working from several photos. For the record, I had nothing to do with making the guy at center right look like an elf with a big ear. The computer did it.
We’re on Fort Concho watch when we spot a group of young FLDS boys walking through the field. We jump out of the car. They are walking right up to the fence as we run over to them. Reporters start yelling questions.
“How are you guys feeling?!”
“What are the conditions like?!”
Then there’s a whistle or a yell from a CPS worker and the boys turn as one and run from the fence.
They run back over to “their” building.
And one boy (maybe the oldest?) gets talked to, reminded of the rules which must include “no talking to the media” and “stay away from the fence.”
An officer comes over and moves us back across the street. I would have photographed him but we’re playing this cat-and-mouse game with the officers. Trying to stay just enough on their good side that they won’t completely screw us. They tell us things like, “You’re not allowed to photograph us,” and we say, “Okay,” knowing full well that we can photograph them if we want (and we do photograph them).
The boys sit around, then play kickball for a while.
It’s hot out.
The Fort Concho watch gets really boring. You’re in the heat for hours waiting for something, anything. Even a boring scene (above) of a woman talking to a doctor (or a dentist? or some guy in a white smock) becomes a shot you have to get because you never know if it’s all that will happen that day.
Then you see what could be good photos, but they are so far away that you can’t do the scene justice (and that CPS worker at the right could be on the phone calling in the calvary to chase you off).
But then a TV cameraman for a Salt Lake City station drives up and gives me a tip. He says that around the corner you can pull into a parking lot and photograph a group of FLDS with their children behind an orange fence. There are about four other photographers with me. We all pile into our cars and drive over fast.
Here is that scene.
We all feel we have to photograph this scene, even if it means that our presence causes the FLDS children to lose their play area. We stay at a distance and try to be fast, but it’s obvious we’re here.
We get our photographs quick and, as a group, decide to leave. None of us want to impose any more than we have to.
But we don’t leave before photographing a CPS worker imploring the police to get us out of the area.
Soon CPS will have no such problems with photographers, as they began today to move people to the local coliseum. It’s a much more secure location where we can’t see anything.
I think it was when I shot this photo that a police officer approached us and said a CPS worker was going nuts because she didn’t want us to photograph the feminine medical examination equipment being taken into the building.
Today’s press conference was the big one. Tons of media crammed into a into little house at Fort Concho. I showed up early and snagged a front row seat. Above, a sound guy at work setting up.
Marleigh Meisner announced that the number of FLDS children removed from the YFZ Ranch now stood at 401.
It was a huge increase in the number of children involved and it shocked everyone. I need to listen to the audio of this announcement to be sure, but in my memory there were gasps as she said 401.
As memory serves, Tela Mange, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety (law enforcement) never was able to say much because the investigation was ongoing. That’s how it works. But even if she couldn’t say a lot, the painting on the wall behind her brought a little Disney into the shot.
That’s my empty front row seat with the camera on it. To my good friend Mike: I do have a shot where you’re actually working, but it got cut in the edit.
Arriving at Fort Concho I photograph Debra Brown, executive director for children at risk, Texas Child Protective Services. She says the agency is going through various books on the FLDS people to gain some understanding of their situation.
I wander back over to the spot where I photographed the women crying yesterday, only to find that police have closed off access to that area. There is now one little spot near a school playground that I can shoot from. I see a large group of FLDS women/girls lined up against a fence waving frantically to people in another building. The shot is very tight, between a building and a tree. It’s barely possible. If I lean one inch either way the view is obscured.
I photograph for a minute or so…
…then some of them wave at me, smiling. That’s a little strange.
Never had that happen before with the FLDS.
CPS workers are leading women individually to another building, for interviews (I assume).
It’s strange to see people walk past a graveyard into an interview that could determine whether or not they keep their children.
Other photographers show up at my spot now, but they’ve missed the big crowd at the fence.
Now there are less people and they’re no longer waving.
The moment has passed.