The Cold War was escalating, the Russians were going to attack soon, and we had better stop touching ourselves. I didn’t really have any hopes or dreams then. I just wanted to live long enough to get married and have sex before God called us Home.
Such is the backdrop for Steven B. Smith’s new monograph, Waiting out the Latter Days, in which time does seem suspended. Where everyone is in a perpetual state of waiting. Whether the next thing will be better or worse . . . well, it’s hard to say.
But until then, we can take solace in Smith’s unvarnished assessment of his past and present, rendered in photographs that are simultaneously as precise and as enigmatic as the light in Utah.
Warren Jeffs was the sole proprietor of the trust which owned Colorado City. Jeffs is thought to have 70 wives, many of them underage. In 2007 he was convicted of multiple counts of aggravated child sexual assault and given two life sentences with an additional 20 years. The state took control of Jeffs’ trust while working out a transition plan for the now leaderless residents. The members were granted their land and homes but with the requirement that they start paying property taxes. Some members refused to pay any taxes and fled to other FLDS communities. Many of the deserted houses sat vacant for a few years but were eventually taken over by squatters who assumed the property taxes hoping to secure a big house for cheap. Some of the squatters are returning exiled young men, known as the “Lost Boys.” When Jeffs excommunicated a young man, his family members were forbidden contact and instructed to move on as if their son or brother were dead. With few life skills the banished young men survived in the real world by taking construction jobs. With roots in Colorado City and their experience in the outside world the Lost Boys have become ideal homesteaders to resurrect the existing town.
Excerpt from essay by Steven B. Smith
The Center for Documentary Studies / Honickman First Book Prize in Photography presents the winning book in this important series celebrating American photography “Steven B. Smith won the prize for his intelligent choice of a subject hidden in full view that is of paramount importance. His work is by turns humorous and piteous, elegiac and ironic, and cumulatively very powerful for he has shaped an essay from aesthetically elegant, delicately nuanced pictures that are pitch perfect, in the spirit of the American West and in keeping with its long history of fine photographs. Smith could have recorded a failure of the imagination or the ruin of desert ecologies, but he was after something much more interesting and amorphous—an intersection of human, climatic, and geographic realms as yet without a name. Such an orderly, labor-intensive, wide-ranging application of knowledge and engineering to the land might be considered some novel and rampant form of garden if houses and streets were not its principal rationale, but since they are, this collocation is usually termed a suburb or a subdivision. Surely these are inadequate terms for Smith’s subject, which, in its totality, is a vision of the future of our planet, of the time when man-made environments no longer just spread out in widening circles around cities and encroach like weeds along the highways, but hold sway everywhere, carpeting the land from valley to mountain and from sea to sea.”