Yearning for Better Coverage of Polygamists


yfz200.jpgToday the New York Times teased a Sunday magazine feature on the young women of the the Yearning for Zion Ranch—the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints‘ (FLDS) Texas compund that was raided in April.

Times photographer Stephanie Sinclair, the teaser says, “was given rare and intimate access to some of the young women who have found themselves at the center of the often-bilious battle between the state of Texas and the F.L.D.S.” The result is an eye-catching essay of 16 photographs.

Contrast is really what makes these photos work so well artistically. The juxtaposition of the pastel prairie-style dresses against a run-of-the-mill suburban ranch house lends an appealingly surreal quality, reminiscent of the uncanniness of Diane Arbus‘ work and the magic realism of Gregory Crewdson‘s. But what are those strange-looking ladies really like?

The teaser opens with 16-year-old Teresa Jeffs, “hitch[ing] up her navy blue prairie dress and hoisted herself into the crooked arms of a live oak tree that sits in front of the Schleicher County Courthouse in Eldorado, Tex.” One of the photos shows her jumping on a trampoline. The implication is clear: Teresa and the other teenage girls at the Yearning for Zion Ranch have been forced to become adults (and possibly mothers) before they’re ready.

The photos are neat and all, but as for reporting, I’m kind of hoping for more. I’ve seen pictures of the prairie garb and the famous poof-do. I’ve talked to people who think that the polygamy is corrupt, and I’ve heard FLDS women on the news state their numbingly rehearsed defense of their lifestyle. And I’ve watched Big Love—which has some stunningly well-developed characters (for reals). But for all the to-do about the ranch raid, I have yet to see deep reporting on the real-life FLDS women. And maybe I never will. From the Times teaser:

We may never know much about the individual circumstances of the young women in these pages or, most important, whether the relationships that carried some of them into motherhood were forced upon them. The women Sinclair met offered no information about the nature of their marriages or who the fathers of their children are.

But shouldn’t we at least try? Here’s hoping the New York Times does this weekend.

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