Friday

Today is going to be a bit of a juggling act. I’m supposed to be spending the day covering a polygamy conference and at the same time photographing a mountain bike trail in Park City.

I hit the conference first and click off a few shots of the first speaker. “Click off a few” is what you say when you know the photos are pretty worthless even as you shoot them. You know, you don’t click off an award-winner.

Then I’m out of the conference and headed up into the mountains to the trail. It’s a beautiful day. Look at what I have to work with:

deer valley

I call a friend who knows the trail for some good locations to hit. He’s on his way to Wyoming to work on a project on the three things people from Utah go to Wyoming for: Porn, Liquor, Fireworks.

Wouldn’t that be a great portrait series? Shoot portraits and ask each subject to pick the one of the three that means the most to them, then print their response in bold type under each portrait. Between porn, liquor and fireworks there is something for everyone. On second thought, maybe the subjects would all have to be men.

We talk a bit about how interesting the West is to photograph. It’s not as homogenized here in Utah as it is in California. But my California outsider eyes are important to me when shooting here. I often find that my best photographs come when I’m in the mindset of looking for things to show my friends back home. I love being a photographer in Utah. So much to see and it’s all so different. Then again, if I could only live in California during the three months of the year Utah is scorching and the three months Utah is freezing.

Mountain Bike Trail

I get to the trail and start walking. Would have been fun to ride the trail, but there’s just no time today. Anyway, you see more clearly when you’re walking. Driving or riding, you don’t experience the place the same way as on foot. You won’t see as much, or I mean, you won’t do as much seeing.

I’m looking for a location on the trail that gives me a good shot in both directions since I don’t know where any bikers will come from. Or if any will come. I want to have two chances to get something if one does, once as they come toward me and then as they ride away. There are beautiful aspens everywhere. I find a good spot in the shade:

mid-mountain trail
and make some test shots.

Now I’m ready to stand around and wait.

And ten minutes later I’m still waiting.

And now another ten minutes are gone and I’m realizing I’ve got no food or water. I’m not leaving until someone rides a bike past me so this could turn into a life or death situation.

There are a lot of funny things that you notice when you stand by yourself in the silent woods for an hour. I noticed this weird looking fly that kept hovering in a specific spot about five feet over the trail. It would return to the same place every time my movements scared it off.

hovering fly
It looked like a golden snitch.

I shot it with my Canon and 70-200mm lens but then I set that down in the dirt and broke out the Fuji. I set the focus to the closest it would go, which is just under four inches. Then I started doing some fly whispering. After about fifteen minutes, I found a way to lure the fly in to hover at just the right distance above my lens for a sharp shot. It was some weird bug science.

hovering fly
I discovered that the golden snitch was less scared of me and my camera when I approached it from below, and I was able to get a shot of it just inches from the wide angle lens. Wow, the things you can learn in the woods. It’s amazing.

mountain biker on Mid-Mountain Trail, deer valley, park city, utah
Finally some bikers come by. Then more and then some more. One yells at me as she flies by, “Are we gonna be in the Park-Record?”

“You’re going to be in the Tribune,” I yell back.

“Yay!”

Safety Net

When I get back to the polygamy conference, a woman spots my cameras as I approach at the door. She tells me that the members of the upcoming panel are off-limits to cameras. “They’re putting their lives on the line,” she says. “There’s one young girl here who would probably run out of the room if she saw your cameras.”

No problem, really. People get camera shy on the polygamy beat quite often. But later I do find that both of the younger women on the panel have done media before. In just a few minutes I find photos and videos online from interviews they’ve done previously.

The first to speak is K, who grew up in a polygamous sect in Utah. She began reading from a sheet of paper, telling us her story. She got very emotional recounting some of her more painful experiences. No doubt that it was a traumatic childhood for her. She’d been through a lot.

You wouldn’t peg her as a fundamentalist. She has platinum blonde hair, eyeliner, and a haircut you’d call punk rock if you weren’t into punk rock. Here are some notes I typed as I tried to keep up. I might have missed some things, but here is what I got…

Nobody’s story is the same. Everybody’s experiences are unique and different. I grew up in the Kingston community, that I know as The Order. I’m the 5th child of 12. I’ve been out for 2.5 years. My life has changed dramatically.

Ever since my earliest memory I knew that the Order wasn’t the place for me. … I just knew that what was going on was wrong. I knew the abuse, the control, the incest and the lying that is all too common in the Kingston group. It was not something I wanted to be a part of.

We all lacked the expression of caring affection. Nobody (ever) said I love you.

My whole life I was put down, told I was ugly, fat, wicked. I felt there was no way anyone could possibly love me.

I love who I have become because of my trials.

She talked for nearly twenty minutes. It was a fascinating story. I hope we can follow up with her and do something more in depth.

Near the end there were comments from the audience. Many thanked the panel for their courage. One person pointed out that while all the panel’s stories were negative toward polygamy, there is a positive side that others would detail if they were on the panel. The organizers of the conference told us that they picked those speakers for a reason: their stories are just the kind that the professionals in the audience will be hearing from others who leave polygamy and seek out help.

2 Comments

  1. Outsider eyes in Utah are a gift. They make living there a fascinating experience. When I lived in Utah I kept a blog titled “Someone else’s Zion.” When I first moved there I thought it was a fitting title, because I was a non-Mormon moving to their Zion, however the longer I was there I realized Utah is Zion to many different people for many different reasons. The red rocks, the mountains, the Uintas in the fall, the crazy people, the good people, sanitized Temple Square, the list goes on- Utah is truly special. Thank you for your amazing work and this blog. I feel like you’ve put to pictures all that I see and observe while in Utah.

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