Coverage of polygamy throughout the West, including many groups and individuals, but with a focus on the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). The editing of my polygamy work is very loose, as it is meant to be a historical archive rather than a portfolio.
Things got very interesting Tuesday at the trial, as FLDS members took the stand to testify in their prophet, Warren Jeffs’ defense. This was an unprecedented view into their insular society.
The first witness was Jennie Pipkin, who brought her iPod, which was loaded with FLDS music and sermons by Warren Jeffs. The sermons alone, with a few LeRoy Johnson and Rulon Jeffs clips mixed in, totaled 769 tracks that would take 18 days straight to play.
Jennie was a very interesting witness. She seemed to be pretty candid, and less obviously coached than some of the others (for the record, all of the witnesses in this trial from both sides have seemed coached).
She told of her arranged marriage at 17, how she had five kids (she’s 25 now) and then wanted to take a break from having kids. That’s right, readers, she had five and only wanted a break. Since most FLDS believe that sex is for having children, this meant no more sex for the Pipkins. Jennie said she stopped letting her husband even hug or kiss her. This led to problems and Jennie eventually asked Warren for a release from her husband, which was granted. A release is pretty much a divorce, but in the FLDS community, it’s likely that Jennie was or will be re-assigned to a new husband and bring her children into his family.
When it was time for the prosecution to cross-examine Jennie, she leaned down on the podium like this. I saw the move as demonstrating a sort of confidence, or maybe a lack of nervousness. Another (unnamed) photographer said it came across as the response of a child or someone young/naive/etc.
It was fascinating to hear FLDS members like Jennie tell their stories. Like I’ve said before, if they had been this open in the past I wonder if today’s events would be taking place. I know that it’s easy for me to say that. I’m not living an illegal lifestyle that has been cracked down on repeatedly. But the secrecy thing obviously hasn’t worked either.
After my time in the court, I went outside to check the audio feed. Some of the TV people asked me about the witnesses. I said, “You know, it was surprising. She came across as candid, responsive, not nervous at all…”
“And totally brainwashed!!!” said a TV guy. (Who, for the record, hadn’t seen or heard Jennie’s testimony.)
If you want to hear Jennie’s voice, you can check out the Warren Jeffs Trial 60 Second Update I did last night. Link is here: http://184.108.40.206/multimedia/0918jeffs/index.html
There are only so many ways to photograph a guy sitting in a chair listening to testimony. The above photo was taken with a 400mm lens. The one below, a 300mm.
You have to look for photos with storytelling content. At the moment I took this photograph of Warren looking down, witness Rebecca Musser was recounting a conversation where she said Warren told her, “I will break you.”
I can’t tell you why he stopped looking at her as she told the story that reflected poorly on him. I can only show you that he did.
Tuesday morning it’s really quiet outside the court now. Fewer cameras. I hear that a bunch of cameras got pulled to Vegas to cover O.J. Simpson’s arrest.
About a dozen or so of Warren Jeffs’ supporters attend the trial every day. They have a handful of friends and family passes (seating in the courthouse is assigned) and a few seem to be coming early to get one of the few public passes handed out first thing. The FLDS arrive right around 8am, when the doors open. Once they’re inside the cameras can’t get them.
This morning there’s only one video camera out there filming. I watch, without cameras, and notice a couple of new faces among the FLDS. I make notes on the new people so I can photograph them leaving later on:
– short and squat
– big man in gray with wife in brown
– old Marshall Applewhite-looking guy w/ wife in brown
After court lets out I photograph the supporters leaving. The couple above, young and lively, walk out right in my direction. They seem to be laughing at the spectacle. It’s Merril and Christine Shaply. As Merril walks by, he says to me, “Do you enjoy your job?”
“Yeah. I do,” I say (my answer sounds aggressive in print, but I didn’t say it that way). They laugh, and I add, “Some days are better than others.” They walk off laughing.
Before any big photo shoot, you kind of go into a panic. Since I’ve been shooting for so long it’s not really a panic anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t freak out a little. Getting into the court for my shift in the photo pool, first thing I shot a gray card for white balance. Doesn’t really help with flourescent + skylight on partly cloudy day with green wall behind subject.
Anyway, as I waited for Warren Jeffs to enter the courtroom and testimony to begin last week, I must have checked my exposure, white balance, and other camera settings about a million times. Put the motor on single shot so I don’t completely disrupt the courtroom with a long burst going off.
Once Warren Jeffs entered the courtroom, it got a lot easier. Kind of like jumping into a swimming pool, I got used to the temperature of the room quick. The only problem was that I had a really bad position schedule-wise. The victim of the alleged rape was on the stand testifying, and photos of her were off-limits. So I was left with Utah Assistant Attorney General Craig Barlow questioning her:
Other than that I went for close-ups of Warren Jeffs with a 300mm lens.
I like the mood of the above photo. Jeffs’ attorney Richard Wright is standing with his hands folded. Jeffs is actually reading a transcript of one of his sermons that was to be played for the court. But there’s a feeling to it.