Eldorado , Texas

YFZ Revisited – April 4, 2008

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

Colorado City , Arizona

Second Funeral for Norene Jeffs

Colorado City – A mound of dirt and small placard mark Norene Jeffs’ simple grave, next to that of Rulon Jeffs, her husband. Friends and family members of Norene Jeffs gathered in the Colorado City cemetery to remember this plural wife, who had been buried the previous week in a secret funeral by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Jeffs, who had been “sealed” to the previous FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs (Warren Jeffs’ father), was buried even before family members exiled from the secretive church were notified of her death. 7.09.2007

Colorado City , Arizona

2nd Place Photo Essay – Polygamy’s Hidden Face

As contest season winds down a couple more awards appeared on my desk at the Tribune.
My work covering polygamy last year was recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists Utah Headliners Chapter.

The judges said, “The photographer overcame so many challenges in telling this story. Nice images of a seldom-viewed subject.”

Very true. Working the polygamy beat has been very rewarding, as I’ve met so many interesting people on all sides of the issue. But it’s also been very frustrating because I can see the amazing photographs just out of my reach. If only I could get better access! To all of you who let us in and let me photograph at least some part of your lives, my deepest thanks.

Here is my winning essay, The Hidden Face of Polygamy:

Polygamist Kelly Fischer covers his face as he walks into the Kingman, Arizona courthouse facing charges of sex with a minor. Fischer, a follower of FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs, was found guilty and sentenced to six weeks in jail after fathering a child with his 16-year-old stepdaughter, who he had taken as a plural wife.

On the wall in polygamist Marvin Wyler’s Colorado City, Arizona home are portraits of his 34 children. Wyler was kicked out of Warren Jeffs’ FLDS Church and has since been trying to find his own spiritual path as an independent fundamentalist.

Polygamist Winston Blackmore (right) bids one of his children goodbye in the morning as one of his young wives leads others away. Some of Blackmore’s wives (he has an estimated fifteen to twenty wives) live in the motel-like building in the background, on a rural farm in Lister, British Columbia.

Elsie Blackmore picks dandelions on her family’s rural farm in Lister, British Columbia. Blackmore is one of nearly one-hundred children fathered by polygamist Winston Blackmore.

Maraya Blackmore covers her ears as her sister Sally Blackmore tunes an electric guitar during a rehearsal of the family rock band. With nearly one-hundred brothers and sisters, there is always an activity going on and someone to play with on the family farm in Lister, British Columbia.

Candice White, the second wife and widow of polygamist Gary White, is facing difficulties getting her share of her husband’s social security benefits for her children. As polygamy is illegal, wives taken after the first are wed in a spiritual marriage which is not legally binding. White’s children are Charlie Ann White (left, 11), Gary Ryan White (center, 7), and Kelly Elaine White (right, 13).

Young men from the polygamist community The Work, in Centennial Park, Arizona, spend two years of their lives serving the community in work missions. Families in the community take turns feeding large groups of these missionaries as they work construction or other jobs, help the needy, and do volunteer work.

Gary Engels, Mohave County’s Investigator, has been assigned to investigate crimes in the isolated polygamist community of Colorado City, Arizona. Engels faces an especially challenging law enforcement task in a closed community where nearly every resident refuses to talk to him, leaving him isolated and and worn down.

A large truck trailing Investigator Gary Engels’ every move is a show of intimidation by Warren Jeffs’ FLDS church security. Engels has been assigned to investigate crimes in the isolated polygamist community of Colorado City, Arizona and is also trying to locate the polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs, who was then on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list.

Handcuffed and flanked by Las Vegas Metro Police Department SWAT officers, FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs appeared before Judge James M. Bixler in the Clark County Regional Justice Center. Jeffs waived an extradition hearing, agreeing to be returned to Utah to face charges related to allegedly arranging an underage marriage. Jeffs is considered a prophet of God to his estimated 10,000 polygamist followers scattered throughout the North American continent.

Hildale , Utah

Hildale Justice Court

Hildale – A sign in the Hildale Justice Court reads: “No one has a finer command of language than the person who keeps his mouth shut.”. for FLDS Hildale/Colorado City Town Marshal story; 12.20.2006

Salt Lake City , Utah

Candice White

Salt Lake City – Candice White, a resident of Centennial Park, Arizona, with her children Charlie Ann White (left, 11), Gary Ryan White (center, 7), and Kelly Elaine White (right, 13). ; 9.30.2006

Centennial Park , Arizona

Centennial Park Missionaries

Colorado City – Families in the community take turns feeding about a dozen young men from the fundamentalist community of Centennial Park, Arizona, who serve work missions after they graduate high school. They work construction or other jobs, help the needy, and do volunteer work..
; 7.25.2006

Kingman , Arizona

Kelly Fischer Trial

Fischer covering his face walking to court; 7.05.2006

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