Pictures of You

The current issue of BYU Magazine, organ of the Alumni Association and tireless fundraising vehicle, is in mailboxes now–or, if your dining room table looks like mine, buried under gleaming drifts of your husband’s voluminous correspondence with the American Medical Association. In all honesty, I’m not generally a cover-to-cover reader of this publication: I’ll scan through Richard Cracroft’s regular “Book Nook” feature, read the “After All” micro-essay at the back thinking “I could have written that!”, and pore over those strangely absorbing “Alumni Updates” (Jonathan J. Toronto, (BS ’95, JD University of Iowa ’99; Allison Walker [BS ’94]; Andover, Minn.) has been elected a principal of the law firm Gray Plant Mooty. Really? Wonder how many kids they have? And, more importantly, who came up with the punctuation template for these little blurbs?). That’s about it, usually. This most recent issue, though, features a long photo essay, “24 Hours at BYU,” that conveys, by means of some 183 color photographs, the surfaces and substances of these 600 acres. I read it start to finish.

I’ve often thought that still color photography, as a representational medium, is uniquely suited to take on the vast institutional subject of BYU. Still photography attends to surfaces and images, and BYU, with its groomed students and manicured grounds, obligingly supplies both in abundance. Both BYU and the still photographer realize that attention to image need not be shallow, aesthetically or spiritually—at its best, a photograph uses contour and surface to figure forth a felt truth, and, at its best, BYU does the same—but both are susceptible to the ease of superfice and mere prettiness. Still photography, particularly in its documentary and photojournalist forms, is a crucial means of producing, revising and disseminating the collective memory—from Iwo Jima and Iraq—that suffuses history book, public space and official discourse; BYU functions in much the same way for the church, as the principal site at which official history and culture of church and state is packaged and distributed, by means of CES and correlation, through our collective memory. And still photography is most engaging from the very close or the very long views; in the middle distance, nearly any photographic subject will look snapshotty and banal. BYU, in my experience, is the same: genuinely stirring, as a high-minded experiment in faithful reason and clean life, from the long view, and from the close view, as a thousand daily interactions between student and teacher, spirit and logos, authentically uplifting—but, from the middle distance of administrative bureaucracy and academic turf wars, occasionally petty and bromidic.

The lavish color spread, then, is in many ways just right. The physical facilities in these pages are, alas, perhaps less photogenic in their homely orange brick than they have ever been, despite the glittering fields of glass and blond wood in the new Joseph F. Smith building. The BYU students themselves are, as ever, a motley bunch as well. But there are some great photos here. A butcher stands above an expanse of bloody chuck roast ready to be wrapped and delivered to the Creamery. Hordes of students crowd a tight campus intersection–but nobody cuts across the grass–between classes, faces a catalog of human sociality. The snowy concrete fins of the “Tree of Wisdom” cast a wing-shaped shadow across the lawn. A coed peers into the glassed fudge case at the Wilkinson candy counter, glacial bergs of chocolage in the foreground. An electrician works beneath the “Y” smokestack, that aging campus mast. Freshmen flirt, cell phones in hand, against the cinder blocks of a Helaman Halls lobby.

The photographers missed some indispensable BYU images, though. The merry squallor of south-of-campus apartment buildings was absent, for one, and the sepulchral basement passages of the JKHB, papered in photocopied flyers. There weren’t enough strollers in the halls, or baby carriers in the classrooms. Nobody praying over lunch in the Cougareat. And the one-on-one interaction between student and faculty mentor, one of my most valuable experiences at BYU and, in my view, one of BYU’s greatest gifts, was nowhere to be seen.

What images are indispensable to your personal BYU photo-essay?

31 comments for “Pictures of You

  1. The look on my mom’s face when I told her that I wouldn’t even apply there?

  2. Me, walking briskly through campus during the daily lowering of the flag while everyone else was standing still at attention.

    What can I say? I was in a hurry.

  3. To see more of the pictures–including baby strollers, etc. go here. You will find a number of video clips containing the photos submitted for the shoot, arranged by theme. The clips take a while to download, so be patient.

  4. Oh, I left one out. At BYU you are not to walk on the grass. I remember walking on the campus as a junior high school student and noticing that all the obvious shortcuts across the grass were well-trodden despite the little signs asking people to stay off. A few years later all those shortcuts were filled in with concrete. I am sure there is some message here about rule-keeping. In any case, my mental image of the campus is a series of still photos, in which new sidewalks keep springing up in order to save the grass.

  5. The droves of women visiting campus for women’s conference, with its accompanying look of “what!?!? are these women doing here” look on the faces of most of the students. I, at one time or another, could have been in either picture.

    Another, closed sidewalk sign exactly where you need to walk in order to get to the class you’re late for.

  6. Being denied entrance into the cafeteria at Deseret Towers because I didn’t shave that day

  7. Since when did T&S headlines decide to start using The Cure lyrics?

  8. aRJ: I can’t blame you for riffing on the grass theme, since I introduced it in my original piece. But in my experience, walking on the grass is not one of the more salient neuroses of BYU administrators.

    Brian: Wouldn’t that be a moving picture? Consider it a sub-thread: clips to go in your personal BYU video montage.

    Jim: Thanks, I somehow didn’t manage to find that on the magazine site.

    Cooper: That’s a good one, and very typical. It seems to me that the number of non-student/staff folks that mill around the BYU grounds on any given day–EFY kids, ed week or women’s conference, language fair, families at the Bean museum, etc–is pretty unique for a university campus.

    J. Stapley: Yeah, I remember that guy. Again, though, that would be a soundscape. Consider it another sub-thread: sounds of BYU campus.

    Constanza: I can see it now: a close-up of the stubble, razor-burn just visible in the foreground.

    Carl: Just a little personal joke. After I post “Letter to Elise” next week I’m moving on to Nirvana.

  9. The labyrinthine set-up of the HFAC. Rooms that were right next to each other required going outside, up some stairs, into a new hallway, down two flights of stairs, down another hallway and then up another flight.

    And those were the easy paths from one room to another.

    Plus, everyone wandered around the HFAC singing at the top of their lungs. I figured they were so lost they had gone insane.

  10. Plus – there was never just one bagpipe guy –

    the few times I checked, it was always a different person prafticing – and once it was a gal.

  11. The one photo that would capture it all for me: A long shot of the downstairs front hallway of the Knight Humanities building–the hall that contains the writing lab. It’s a tired, bland, linoleum-dusty cave that captures the barrenness of the mountain west and BYU.

  12. For me there wasn’t enough of the silliness captured. Only the kids in the space suits even came close to the craziness that filled the first half of my BYU career. How about a shot of the “freshman riot” (anyone else a freshman in 1992?) And I’d have loved a shot of the Honors Student Council meeting in the basement of the Maeser building or the grass missing on the Maese building lawn after Stretch Armstrong played for the banquet. But oh yeah, HSC must have been considered dangerous by the administration because it was disbanded. Russell, you don’t remember me but I remember you being involved then, can you shed light on what happened there?

  13. Rosalynde, another great post. The comparison to short/long-range vs. mid-range views of BYU is perfect.

  14. I would have liked to see a shot of freshmen playing frisbee tag late at night in the hallways of Deseret Towers.

    Fortunately, they didn’t do this essay in 1980 when I had just gotten back from my mission. If they went into the labyrinthine HFAC, they might have gotten a shot of me in a speedo—or a painting of me in a speedo. Yes, I had a job as a model for the art department. Unlike most universities, BYU wouldn’t allow nude modeling on campus, so you had to wear a speedo. They have a little locker room up there to change in. (BTW, holding the same pose for three hours is much tougher than it sounds!) And there was this girl from my ward who was taking an art class I had to pose for, so that was kind of embarrassing. Although after a while I got used to it and it seemed normal to stand around during breaks practically naked in a class full of people. Anyway, there is an image for you that fortunately didn’t make it into the photo essay…

  15. I really liked that issue. I’m only four years out of BYU myself. I’ve got a couple (OK, it turned into more than “a couple”) snapshots from my own time on campus:

    1. A cranky 30-something Women’s Conference attendee yelling at a hapless student worker in the Cougareat because they’ve run out of “BYU Brownies” (you know, with the disgusting mint frosting …).

    2. A circle of chattering EFY kids sitting in a circle just outside the main entrance to the Wilkinson center, cheerfully unaware that they are making everyone walk around them to get in and out of the building.

    3. That beautiful little wooded walkway behind the Smith Field House that follows a small canal. My wife and I loved taking our baby daughter on walks there during the summer.

    4. Twenty exhausted students (most of whom don’t know each other) crammed into the tiny steel hut at the summit of Mount Timpanogos at 3:30 AM trying to catch a bit of sleep before the sun rises.

    5. Two student workers in aprons and down jackets (in mid-July) working stacking boxes of frozen vegetables in massive freezers.
    Incidentally, those freezers are right across the hall from the butcher featured in the magazine. He’s a really nice guy and cooks barbecued meat that is to DIE for!

    6. A husband and wife sitting down for lunch beneath a large window on the carpet in an out-of-the-way nook off the main hallway in Eyring Science Center.

    7. Tunnel-singing Sunday night near the Marriot Center (I went once, ended up with my arm around some guy I didn’t know singing “I Am a Child of God,” and swore I’d never do that again).

    8. A student at 2:00 PM stretched out along the wall in the Wilkinson Center hallway with his sweatshirt covering his face taking a nap.

    9. Free Root Beer at Brick Oven.

    10. A team of student custodians standing on top of Helaman Halls, garden hoses at the ready while watching the fireworks from Stadium of Fire burst directly overhead.

    11. Some random guy playing the piano in the lobby surprisingly well.

    12. 12:00 noon: A massive line of students outside the big computer lab in the basement of the Kimball Tower.

    13. 12:00 noon: the small computer lab on the southeast corner of campus in the Knight Building half empty.

    14. The central lounge in the staff dormitory at Aspen Grove Family Camp (I met my wife there).

    15. BYU campus shut down by city road construction during Education Week for the third year in a row!

    16. 3 or 4 moms with their toddlers chatting at a shaded sandbox area in the middle of Wymount married student housing.

    17. Professor Doug Thayer walking the five miles from his house to campus every day.

  16. Rosalynde, I’m not sure how serious you were with your little nit-pick, but many great still pictures convey motion. Take a look at the examples you used in your own post. That flag on Iwo Jima is going up. That statue of Saddam is going down. That bullet is going through that banana.

    And in my hypothetical snapshot I am on my way to a hot date.

  17. LOL Seth Rogers re: #1.

    Most of them actually weren’t that cranky actually, but what did get them upset was when we ran out of the little side salads. Speaking of which, Mormon women are at the cutting edge when it comes to dieting. It was years before Atkins became popular nationally, and all these women were asking for hamburgers with no buns. I couldn’t figure out what on earth was wrong with our buns.

    I would add a few pictures.

    Freshmen walking around the library with their audio tourguides. If you don’t know what they’re doing, it’s odd to see kids walking around disorientedly with headphones on.

    I think a still picture at a distance would be a great way to capture campus during the playing of the national anthem. You have a substantial number of students standing straight and one or two random ones walking among them.

    My personal favorite would be the philosophy lecture series in the JKHB on Thursday mornings. I started going simply because I noticed nearly the entire philosophy department faculty went to every one. I figured, if all these guys are actually going every week, the lectures must be pretty good. I love the image of all the professors, scattered among the students, all listening there together.

  18. Pay special attention to page 30. Yes, it’s my boy! I called his siblings and told them what HUGE disappointments they were to me by comparison.

    I was heartened to see that he considers himself in the ’06 class, first I heard that he actually is thinking of graduating.

  19. I was moved to go look for this issue amongst our pile of recent magazines and take a closer look, and I discovered that the 24 hours these photos were taken in was September 22—my birthday. (You can all remember it easily, it’s the day Joseph Smith repeatedly visited Moroni, and eventually received the plates, as my grandfather is wont to remind me. Being so easily remembered, everyone here can send me presents—you can use my Amazon wish list!)

    I realized I have no memory (let alone photos) of celebrating a birthday at BYU. Maybe it’s a guy thing, but we didn’t celebrate our birthdays; I don’t think we even made each other aware of when our birthdays were. (I’m trying to make up for that now with this comment.)

    Then, I realized I don’t even have any photographs of my roommates. I’ve never had the patience to take photos; even now my wife does all that.

    I cannot help having warm feelings looking at the photos in the BYU Magazine, but I must admit that my current perspective on BYU—buried inside this post (which also happens to mention the angelic visitor Moroni)—is somewhat ambiguous.

  20. I’m ambiguous about BYU as well. Personally, I enjoyed Utah Valley State College more education-wise (much smaller student body, more friendly setting).

    However, life was good at BYU (overachieving lemmings and all).

  21. A time exposure of the national anthem playing in early 1972, when walking was political, not simple lateness. (Or the look on the faces of some who disagreed with the “walker.”)

    Prof. Neal Lambert biking from Indian Hills to campus on his rickety old ten-speed.

    A 5’3″ elderly woman encountering 6’11” Kresimir Cosic at the end of a stack in the library.

  22. Claire,

    I don’t know how much light I can shed on what happened to Honors back in the early to mid-90s, since as a student you only know part of the story anyway, and that goes double for students like myself who were participants in those events seemingly at the center of various controversies (whether real or imagined). From my and others’ point of view at the time, it was all rather straightforward: you had a bunch of Honors deans–Hal Miller, Alan Keele, and Eloise Bell, predominently–who were very sympathetic to and supportive of Student Review, VOICE, and a host of other unofficial and occasionally troublesome student organizations. They envisioned–and I’m remembering some of their actual words here–the Honors program, and HSC in particular, as not just a parallel set of curricula and student organizations for a some particular subset of the student body as a whole, but as a practically distinct school within a school, a place where students and scholarship would be cultivated along lines simply not possible outside the sheltered walls of the Maeser Building. What this meant, in actual practice, is 1) we got to blow a whole lot of BYU money on a lot of really ridiculous things; 2) faculty asked to teach us Honors courses were frequently encouraged to come up with the most scandalous stuff they could imagine; 3) just about every professor or student group that had ever had a conflict with the administration was given pretty near free use of the facilities. Then, in 1993, it pretty much all changed–the Honors deans were replaced or left, Student Review was forbidden to meet in the Maeser building (soon we were forced off campus altogether), HSC was radically scaled and transformed into some sort of “Honors Student Advisory” thing, and so forth. For all I know, these and other changes came in response to wholly unrelated and internal institutional and budget concerns; but considering everything else that was going down at BYU at the time–the faculty firings, the student protests, etc.–it all seemed of a piece to us.

    Jim Faulconer was dean of General and Honors Education until just recently; he likely can relate a much fuller story of what went down at the edge of campus back in the day than I.

  23. Oh, wait, I need to add some BYU snapshots.


    The long lines, snaking all the way around to the Wilkinson Center lounge, for the midnight movies at the Varsity Theater. You’d have two students making out, followed by four more in a popcorn fight, followed by another desperately trying to finish some homework, followed by another napping, and so forth down the line.

    Myself and about five other people lowering ourselves beneath a grate behind some bushes near the HFAC, clambering through subterranean passageways with flashlights in our hands, trying to find the Holy Grail–the long-rumored secret tunnel connecting the Wilkinson Center and the SWKT. We never found it.

    Watching (name withheld) sprint naked across Kiwanis Park on a dare.

    Watching the sunlight and cloud shadows pass along the mountains, especially just after a storm; spotting the exact snow line, and on the basis of such being able to identify the point of origin of every car in the parking lot, depending on how much of a snow covering they have.

    Curling up on a comfortable couch in one of the hidden alcoves in the Maeser building, intending to catch a quick nap, and not waking up until 7p.m.

    And, of course, taco salad.

  24. The morning of Holloween of my freshman year lovingly placing a carved pumpkin atop Karl Maser’s head, just as the little golf cart used for prospective-student tours came up (who was getting a campus tour at 7:30am!!). The extremely strait-laced looking man driving the cart was clearly horrified and wanted to know, “What do you think you are doing?!” We calmly informed him that we were putting a pumpkin on Karl Maser’s head. The man didn’t know what to say in response and rather huffily drove away. However, the 17 year-old kid sitting on the back seat of the cart gave us a grin and a thumbs up as they drove away. “This place isn’t so bad, after all,” I am sure he was thinking. I am convinced that it is the best bit of recruiting for BYU that I ever did.

  25. Nate, that is hilarious. I think you are right about your successful recruiting.

    Russell, thanks for your insight, it does shed some light on the matter, if only confirming my suspicions. I was only peripherally involved (well, I went to lots of the activities in the 91-92 school year- whose truck was again that that got stuck in the mud at the lake?- but was not privy to the planning or any interaction with the faculty). I would be interested in Jim’s take on it. Jim, actually, you were our ward High Council advisor in the married ward in was in later in my time at BYU and, as you probably know, were universally regarded as ‘really cool,’ if only because you wore Birkenstock clogs to church.

  26. Having served two years in Korea, I was really glad to be back in the USA. So, I stopped and stood at attention during the national anthem. I didn’t pass judgment on the students hurrying to class. I did frequently find myself yelling “PLAY SCHOOL!!” at the end of the anthem. After all BYU is the major leagues.

    I found my daughter in one of the group shots. Tuition money well spent.

    How about a picture of me and my buddies playing bridge after finals? We were turned in for playing with face cards. The professor who was sent to bring us back into line asked to be dealt in.

  27. Wednesday nights in the Modern Room at the Palace, where alas, I spent way too much time my freshman year.

    Some poor freshman slipping on the ice coming down the hill from DT past Heritage Halls. That was a wicked hill and I know people poured water there on purpose to make an ice ramp.

    On a related note: all the California and Arizona students unprepared for the Utah winter but still singing Christmas songs as soon as it starts to snow in October.

    Sitting on the floor in SWKT waiting for IC tickets. The dirty looks from all the smartypantses when our friend Tyler dared to mock a character (aloud) in Passage to India. (If you were there: sorry!)

    Riding bikes very fast through campus at night. We were newlyweds, low on date money. We had IC, bike rides, and the temple.

    Kent Jackson walking around the halls of the JSB in his socks, thoroughly engrossed in a manuscript. (I worked for Br. Jackson for six lovely months, lucky me! Really!)

  28. Claire (#26), I’m amazed that anyone in that ward knew who I was. I thought I was relatively invisible. But I got to know your bishop, Doug Chabries, and I liked him very much. We have remained friends since then. As for the transition from HSC to HSAC. I came to the Maeser Building for a one-year stint as the associate dean with the Honors portfolio just after that happened. As a result, I heard a great deal about it from students who were angry and administrators who were justifiying what they had done. Most of what people say is overblown, on both sides of the discussion. Everyone loves a good conspiracy to hate, so when something happens we don’t like, we invent one. the pro-HSC people invented theirs and were not out done by the anti-HSC people. But there are things that ought to wait for memoirs before becoming public, and this is one of them.

  29. Jim, yes, Doug Chabries was great. Alas, then he was released and we had one bishop (Kite was it?) for about 2 months followed by someone so onerous I’ve blocked out his name. He threatened to rescind my husband’s ecclesiastical endorsement unless he got a haircut, a month
    before graduation no less. (No threadjack intended….I suppose this thread is pretty dead anyway so not much risk of that)

    I bet it was also interesting to be on a high council with Smokey Joe Cannon and Bud Scruggs, one of my favorite poli sci professors (even if he was a Republican).

    And no offense of course, but it’s hard to be invisible in a ward where you are 20 years older than anyone else there. :-)

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