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.