FLDS Photo Essay

My photo essay on the FLDS was recently awarded first place by the Society of Professional Journalists Utah Headliners. Some backstory on the photos…

I didn’t think I had an essay on the FLDS from 2012. I only made two trips down to Short Creek. The first trip didn’t result in any stories and the photos were pretty random. On the second trip I spent a lot of time alone, driving the streets.

Here is the essay in order.


Perseverance paid off with this photo from the second trip. I had been fighting the urge to leave town for a few hours, my stomach growling for food. As the sun set I started to see a number of fires light up around town as people were burning trash, weeds, whatever. After looking at a few others, I found this fire, the biggest one. The photo was taken with a 600mm lens from a half block away. After I had more than enough photos, the boys noticed me and moved away into the darkness. I waved, pointlessly.


Only the FLDS seem to know what’s going on behind closed doors. The rumors come and go, and as the FLDS don’t respond the rumors get more and more crazy. What’s true and what isn’t? It’s a question that will only be answered in time.


I’ve shot this view of Short Creek from the reservoir numerous times. Everyone has. It’s a beautiful spot, for sure. I don’t think a lot of this photo, but have use in the essay for a sense of place as well as for what the caption tells the viewer.


Seeing these kids and their minders made my day. This was shot with a 600mm lens (and maybe a teleconverter) from at least a block away. They didn’t seem to be aware of me, which is good. The FLDS, especially children, avoid outsiders and as I’ve often said, I don’t like making people run away. You’ll often see groups of kids like this walking around town during the day. Maybe it’s a school field trip, as there are usually a few adult women walking with them and a large SUV following along.


A lot of the recent FLDS stories are about the tightening of the group. They have been receding from modern life. This photograph of the basketball courts blocked by storage helps to tell that story.


goat in schoolyard


I’m always fascinated with the things people hang on their walls, anywhere. Not just the FLDS. These displays of the family’s children always pull me in. Size and scale is hard to capture from the outside. When you get inside you start to see those elements more clearly.


We had already done a story on Lorin Holm (without photos) when I met him, so I knew these photos weren’t going anywhere. Still, I wanted to tell his story. His lone figure in the empty dining area with room for a couple dozen people was a good spot for a symbolic shot.


I’ve written about this photograph before. I’ll say this again: seeing these kids scramble over the gate to the zoo was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. That might not make a lot of sense if you weren’t there, chasing ghosts in a small rural town. Let me tell you more…

I went to bed the night before after a long day driving around town. I was staying in St. George, which is about 30 minutes away, and I had to pick up some colleagues the next morning at the new airport, a further 30 minutes away from Short Creek. I’d done enough driving around town, I figured. I’ll sleep in, have a lazy breakfast and then hit the airport. No need to shoot anymore around town.

Then I woke up early, ditched the lazy plan, and drove to Short Creek. It started off rough, no photos really happening. I started to photograph the signs on individual homes, and that gave me a purpose to keep going. Just before it was time to leave, not much had happened. And then this. Well worth the hassle.


Watching these girls do their hair was a career highlight. I shot way too many photos.


These three on the couch. Amazing stories, good people. Funny and warm. Thanks for sharing your stories. I know it wasn’t easy.

2013 Utah SPJ Awards – A Good Year

Had a great run in this year’s SPJ contest. Here are some awards I’m proud of…

Best Photographer

My thanks to these amazing photo editors: Jeremy Harmon, Keith Johnson, Lennie Mahler.

1st place Photo Essay – Life Under Warren Jeffs

My thanks to reporters Lindsay Whitehurst and Nate Carlisle and the Holm family.

1st place Best Single Blog PostTime Travel and Ethical Photojournalism.

HM Best Overall BlogThe Polygamy Blog
My thanks to co-bloggers Jim Dalrymple II and Nate Carlisle.

2nd place Sports Feature photo – Opening Day
Opening day at Brighton Ski Resort, Tuesday November 13, 2012 in Brighton.

3rd place General News photo – Last Goodbye

Say Anything, In the Venue, SLC

Say Anything, Max Bemis, In the Venue, Salt Lake City, Utah

Just took the phone, these were the best two out of 500. Yeah, 500. Worse still, my best shots were somewhere among frames 501-750 but a FastCamera crash erased every frame after #500.

Say Anything, Max Bemis, In the Venue, Salt Lake City, Utah


Some changes in the photo department…

I only got to work with Kim for a year and a half. It’s sad to see her go. I’m going to remember her for being excited about so many assignments. The kind of shoots some of us thought we were too cool to do? The events we’d covered year after year to the point of boredom? Kim would come back from those with a big smile, asking if she could do them again the next time they came around. If we had assigned her to all of the things she got such a thrill from shooting there wouldn’t have been much left for the rest of us to do.

Best to you, Kim.

With all of the changes in the office and the state of the journalism industry, it’s hard to stay focused on doing great work. You’ve got to have a clear head to be creative and this week I’ve found myself reaching just to stay on task. Luckily, the photos are out there and if you put in the time you will find them.

Working in an industry that’s trying to find a way to survive, you’ve got to keep your head in the game. It’s hard to do when things seem to be falling down around you. But that’s the goal: Focus and create.

I wonder how much longer people will be able to make a living doing photojournalism. If it’s going to end we might as well go out strong. I plan to keep leaping off the platform and praying there’s water down below…

Enoch Foster dives off the platform, Cottonwood Heights Rec Center, Utah

Stadium of Fire

stadium of fire dancers

andrew wright covers his ears during presentation of colors and fireworks, stadium of fire

stadium of fire dancers

stadium of fire, Cirque Du Soleil

Carly Rae Jepsen performs at the Stadium of Fire, 2013

Kelly Clarkson performs at the Stadium of Fire, 2013

This is what I wrote before it started…

I arrived two hours early, mostly because I had no parking pass. They let me into the parking lot to get to the Will Call window, saying, “When you get your pass, just exit and return.”

And sure enough a parking pass never turns up, but I’m so early I just leave my car in the third row and hope for the best. Unable to leave, I cancel my dinner order at a local restaurant and figure I’m going to have to eat stadium food or starve tonight. Just a bottle of water would be nice for a start. It’s hot, in the high 90s. I end up eating a Cougar Dog.

There’s a mandatory meeting for photographers before the show. They say:

No press will be allowed to remain at Stadium of Fire without attending the press briefing, as important photo/video restrictions are outlined.

I’m escorted up to the President’s Loge and left alone in there. I must be really early. There are stacks of press packets on a table and a couple of unattended parking passes in the corner. I take a press packet and find the photo restrictions:

Later I look around while Carly Rae Jepsen and Kelly Clarkson perform and no cameras are down. And since we’ve got no close access it’s a tough 300mm or a 400mm shot anyway, so the more shots, the better.

In the press packet is also a rundown of the what’s going to happen and when at tonight’s Stadium of Fire. I type up boilerplate captions for each event, checking spellings, etc. Doing this when things are calm gives you a huge advantage when you’re trying to send out a photo on deadline. This way you have time to check spellings, etc., without any pressure. Later you can just copy and paste the captions without having to think.

Here’s my route:

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