FLDS bonfire photo asks questions
Published: February 6, 2013 09:40AM
Updated: February 6, 2013 09:40AM
Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune A group of young men sit near a bonfire Thursday Nov. 29, 2012 in Hildale.

This photograph of a group of FLDS boys and young men standing near a bonfire in Hildale says a lot to me. What does it say to you?

On the surface it’s a photograph from a small Utah town where it’s still common practice to pile up a bunch of trash and set it ablaze. But photographs can be deeper.

Could the dark figures of these boys represent the silence the group has withdrawn into?

Could the flames represent the many legal challenges closing in on the sect?

Each viewer will find different meanings in the photograph and some may toss it out as a meaningless snapshot. That’s how it should be.

When I’m culling photos, I’m looking for details and expressions that show you something about a moment or someone’s personality. But it is up to you to experience the photographs and interpret them through your world view.

I have yet to find a photograph that captures everything about the entire polygamy world in one shot. There is no single photo that I’m aware of that shows happiness, pain, family, sacrifice, land trusts, conflict, privacy, children, courtrooms, victims, heroes, prison, education, escape, keep sweet, braided hair and a pastel prairie dress.

Over time I have photographed all of those things. But each photograph is just a slice of the bigger picture.

These boys were unaware of my presence. After a few minutes they saw me and quietly moved off, as a group, into the shadows. I waved, then got in my car and drove away, thankful for the moment.

— Trent Nelson