Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist Jeffrey D. Allred has worked around the world capturing iconic images at events from the Olympics to natural disasters. But some of his most beloved photographic memories fall into a special category.
He has had the honor of covering the significant events and day-to-day life of members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the fifth episode of the Church News podcast, Allred shares his unique experiences and views of the Church that he has captured through the lens of his camera — from sacred moments at temple dedications to joyful moments of President Russell M. Nelson with children.
Collectively these experiences have helped build his own personal testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ on earth.
Transcription of the podcast
Sarah Jane Weaver: I'm Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today, I'm excited to welcome Jeffrey D. Allred to the Church News podcast. Jeff has worked as a photojournalist for the past three decades. In addition to recording history for the Deseret News, he has worked as a freelancer for the New York Times, the USA Today, and numerous other publications. He's been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and received a lot of awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and other media organizations. I have been on numerous work assignments with Jeff, where he has viewed seminal moments of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through the lens of his camera. Most important, I count him among my friends. Jeff, thanks for being with us today.
Jeffrey D. Allred: Thank you, Sarah. We are good friends, aren't we?
Sarah Jane Weaver: Jeff, let's start today looking back at your career as a photojournalist, the things you've seen, the places you've been?
Jeffrey D. Allred: That's a big long answer. The beauty of photojournalism is that I get to go everywhere. I have this incredible front seat to history. So I've been to Olympic Games. I've been to NBA Finals. I've covered natural disasters. I've covered wonderful things, temple dedications. I've been to many countries; probably, I think the last count I had was about 50 countries in the world. I've been to every U.S. state, and most of those states I have photographed in, and so it's just been an incredible journey.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and you've had many, many opportunities to be present at some seminal moments in the history of the Church. So let's talk about some of those. I remember after I first came to the Deseret News 25 years ago, just a few years in, the Church celebrated the sesquicentennial of the pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley. As part of that, you went on a wagon trip. Can you tell me some of the highlights of that experience?
Jeffrey D. Allred: I would love to. This was such a fun thing to do. I think as a photojournalist, we sometimes take just one photo, we're done – one photo, we're done. This gave me an opportunity to cover an event for three months. So the Pioneer Reenactment went from Winter Quarters (in Omaha, Nebraska) to the Salt Lake Valley, and what they tried to do is they tried to mimic the (1847) pioneer trek. So as each day progressed, they tried to follow the same route, tried to follow the same mileage. So if the pioneers originally went 12 miles in one day, we tried to do the same thing, and it was just fun to shoot. People were in wagons, they were walking, they were riding horseback, they were pulling handcarts. They were doing everything. And so as a photographer, you get up with these people at sunrise, you photograph them all day long, you photograph them dancing and eating, at the end of the day, as the light is beautiful. And this made for some pretty incredible photographs, and I was really happy to go on that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Was there a learning that you took? Did you gain a greater appreciation for the pioneers or the people who settled Utah?
Jeffrey D. Allred: So I come from pioneer ancestry. So my fourth great-grandfather and fifth great-grandfather traveled this very route, and they made it from Missouri, all the way to the Salt Lake Valley, and then went various places. So it really touched my heart to be able to go on this same journey. It was incredible. And as we went through the plains of Nebraska, and through Wyoming, I just kept thinking , “Wow, what would that have been like 150 years ago?” because this took place on the 150th anniversary. And so it was a lot of fun just to see the scenes, and to record them, to photograph them with my camera, and it was beautiful.
Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the things that has defined my career is the opportunity to be with members at the time a temple is dedicated in their city. Now, you've been to a few temple dedications. I suspect one of the most memorable for you would have been the Church’s 100th temple dedication in the year 2000 in Boston.
Jeffrey D. Allred: I was, I will just use the word blessed to be able to go back on that. Here we have a temple in a pretty populated area. And at the time President (Gordon B.) Hinckley wanted this temple to be built there, we had people like Mitt Romney, who was the governor of the area. The thing that really touched me was that as I covered this dedication, there were members of the Church who were helping out with this. I remember there was one woman that had won the Pulitzer Prize, she was out directing traffic: “Okay, you're going to go in here, park here, this is where you walk to the temple.” There (were) other people that were, I mean, just talk about these noble Bostonians, and it was really kind of fun to see this. And then you know me, Sarah, I like to climb everywhere and get every vantage point I can. So at the time, I'm thinking, “I want to be on the roof of the Boston temple.” And I said, “Hey, get me on the roof, I have got to shoot photos at sunset, on the roof of the temple.” And so they said, “Okay.” If you don't ask, you don't get, right? So I was able to go up on the roof and shoot the beautiful sunset with the temple in the foreground. And, you know, lighting in photography is probably the most important thing, is probably the thing. So, I had to do this right as the sun was setting, and it just made for this incredible picture. Now, the Boston temple, if you'll recall, didn't have a steeple, didn't have a Moroni on it, didn't have any of that, because according to the city ordinance, I believe at the time, they didn't allow it. So there was just kind of this big squared off front, and the temple wasn't very pretty, and later, they got this beautiful spire. And it was gorgeous. But I'm just trying to look for any advantage I can to make this kind of plain, boxy building look better than it was.
Sarah Jane Weaver: All temples are pretty, Jeff.
Jeffrey D. Allred: Okay, I stand corrected. And it was in a very beautiful area too – wooded, hilly, it was very pretty.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, if temples are this moment that represent a hope and a looking forward, there's also times when things are very hard to cover. I suspect some of the assignments that you've been on where you've had to cover disasters, or, you know, times when human beings are actually suffering, would be some of the hardest assignments you've received. You did go to Haiti after that horrific earthquake. Can you tell us what it was like to be there among those people at that time?
Jeffrey D. Allred: Yes, Haiti occurred in 2010, so this was 10 years ago. And it was difficult, number one, just to get into the country. There was martial law declared, the U.S. Air Force took over the airport in Port au Prince. So, just trying to get into the country was difficult. Once we got into the country, it was scary. There were people doing things they shouldn't be doing, and lots of firearms. You didn't want to ever be out after dark. I mean, it was from a safety perspective, very difficult. But there were some “pluses” too.
So, back to the earthquake, a lot of people died, a lot of people. A lot of buildings were ruined. A lot of people's lives were changed forever. Haiti is a country where, let's just say, they're struggling before the earthquake. And then you add an earthquake on top of that, and it makes it even worse. So we saw a lot of death, a lot of destruction. There was one nursing school that totally pancaked, collapsed. And we drove by that each day on our route to get out to the city. You could just smell the death, and it was horrific. It was horrific. And I don't think I'll ever forget it. There were tents set up, medical tents. The French would come in, the Swiss, the Germans, they all had their medical tents. And they would perform surgeries on these poor, injured people. And going into these tents, the cries for help and the cries of pain I'll never forget. I will never forget it. I get emotional just talking about it.
There were a couple really interesting things that happened though. There was one day, we're driving around the city, and there was a Christian revival happening. Well, this Christian revival had people thanking their Lord for their lives; they're grateful that they were alive. And this made for just a beautiful, beautiful photograph of a woman stretched out, thanking Deity for being able to live.
The other plus was a woman that was pregnant during the earthquake, and just had her house (collapse), which (like) most of them (were) made of cinder blocks. So as these cinder blocks would shake and fall, it would kind of brush against them and scrape their arms. and this caused infection. That's how a lot of people died, how a lot of people lost their limbs, because of this infection. Well, anyway, she got out of her structure, her home that she was sharing with many family members, and was unscathed. She's pregnant, she's unscathed, she gives birth the next day. And I can't remember where she gave birth, but she needed a place to rest, she needed a place to go be with her newborn child. And she found an LDS ward. And of course, the Church takes in one and all. They fed her, they clothed her, there (were) restrooms. And I came across the scene – there's this woman, she's in the hallway at the church, the LDS Church. She's holding her newborn, the beautiful morning light is coming through the window, and it made for this incredible image. And it's like, you know, you see these things, not very often, you see them occasionally. But when you see these kind of photographs, it's just like, that's it. And you focus in and you don't let anything distract you, and you just work that situation. And it didn't take much time just to get this beautiful image of this woman that had new birth, new life, come out of something that created a lot of death. So anyway, that image ran on the front page of the Deseret News, ran in the Church News, it ran as a cover in the Ensign.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And it hung huge in our offices for a lot of years. And we looked at that when we entered, because it was this signal of hope that from really horrible things, from ashes can come rebirth. It's the classic tale of the Phoenix.
Jeffrey D. Allred: Yeah, exactly. So we do see this destruction, we see this death, we see this misery. Yeah, we see some good things come out of it, too. I noticed that the Church was there. The Church was there in force, and there are Mormon Helping Hand shirts everywhere. And there (were) supplies. Water was difficult to get. Food was difficult to get. And it was so difficult to get that when the Church would truck in these big loads, there was an armed guard protecting this stuff. There was a man with a machine gun protecting this stuff, this food, this supplies. And it was great to see that somebody stepped up. I mean, I think this phrase has been used before, but I really, literally heard this. They said, the people there were like, “Yeah, these churches are so great. There's the Mormon Church that just keeps bringing stuff in. And then there's this other church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they just kept helping us.” And I've heard that before, but I've literally heard that in Haiti.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that's probably been a thread that you have seen in all of the other disasters that you've covered, that The Church of Jesus Christ is there for both its own members and for others in the community.
Jeffrey D. Allred: Absolutely. Hurricane Katrina, in the South, U.S. South, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida was devastating, and people were losing their homes. They were losing their lives. The Church was there. Elder Packer, President Packer, I can't remember at the time, and Bishop Burton were there, and they brought in all these supplies. And it was kind of interesting, not even just the General Authorities, but on a stake level. We came across one stake that the city of New Orleans had charged with going out and helping people. So they said, “You guys are in charge, with your small boats, with your fishing boats, to go out, take supplies, bring people in, rescue them.” And they let the stake take over the city of New Orleans. A stake. So you got to see that they had trust, and they knew the job would get done. It’s really interesting. So as we went into the stake center, there's the stake president, he's got the map, he's directing people. He's pointing, shouting, he's telling where to go, where you need to go. They've got this wonderful radio system, and this is a church helping out a city, a U.S. city.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, and you referenced my favorite part of that whole story, and it was President Boyd K. Packer and Presiding Bishop H. David Burton going into the disaster zone right after it had happened, and President Packer was so simple in his words. He said, “We've come here to be with you.” They just wanted to send a message with their presence. That happens so often. We have witnessed a different kind of Church leaders being with the members. January will be the three year anniversary of President (Russell M.) Nelson leading The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In that time, he has traveled the world and many opportunities, and many times, we've been with him. Talk about that compared to the Superbowl.
Jeffrey D. Allred: You know, the person you see on TV in President Nelson is the person he really is. He's caring, and as we view him, we see him in the hotel, we see him before meetings, we see him at lunch, we see him driving to appointments, we see him everywhere. You and I have seen this. And he's as quick to talk to the little guy as he is to another General Authority. I mean, he'd probably rather talk to the guy pushing the broom than he would somebody else. He's as quick to talk to the 5 year old as he is the 95 year old. So boy, I gotta tell you this: He's an incredible man. And I've not seen anyone like him.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I remember being on his first world ministry tour, which was just after members sustained him as prophet in April (1998), and we were in Thailand, and you came running out after the meeting and said, “President Nelson just picked up a child. It wasn't a baby. That little boy was pretty old.”
Jeffrey D. Allred: Even President Nelson talked about that photograph for a little while after. So in these early tours, he would often leave the podium, the stage, and walk with the other General Authority that he was with, and his wife, Wendy, and he would greet the crowd. He would have his hand up and you'd be touching hands, you'd be shaking hands. And often these children would not walk to him – they would run to him. They would run and these hordes of kids would come around and he would often go down on a knee, and he’d be down there on their level. And in this case, he saw this bigger kid that he picked up. He just picked him up. So at the time, President Nelson is 93 years old. This is not a young man, in his mind, in our minds, we’re young. But President Nelson is 93 years old, and he picks up this larger child. And he holds him and he's talking to him and his wife, Wendy, Sister Wendy, is right there, and made for this beautiful, beautiful little moment. And later, we come to find out that this child has cancer. And did President Nelson know that? I don't know. But he zeroed in on this one child. And he gave him a lift physically and spiritually.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I remember another time when the children were just drawn to President Nelson. It was after a devotional in Paraguay. They just seem to run to him. Their parents didn't send them to him, he didn't call them to him. I remember Elder Gary E. Stevenson, who was traveling with him as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, later said that he thought those children were drawn to the love of the Savior they could feel in President Nelson. Do you remember that moment?
Jeffrey D. Allred: I will never forget that moment. I can visualize it right now. He came to stage, right, and (he) was leaving and was going to kind of cut out the back of the room, and these kids came. And now, as a photographer, you got to think about this. President Nelson has security, has big men around him, and their job is to keep people away. Now, they're gonna let the little kids come through. But for me holding a camera, they want to keep me away. And this was early on, we didn't know them as well as we do now. But I'm fighting with security to get in there because I'm seeing this wonderful, wonderful image. And so I'm kind of throwing elbows. You got a couple other local photographers, there's some videographers that are there, so we're all kind of jostling. But this was just a gorgeous, gorgeous moment, and these kids, they're so innocent, they're so beautiful, and President Nelson recognizes this, and he understands how important it is that people see him, and people are crying and they're reaching out for him. And these kids are just beautiful, and it's made for this really striking photograph. I remember later on, Wendy, we're at the airport the next day and she said, “President Nelson really loved that picture.” That's music to my ears. Thank you.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that's because he got down on his knees to be right at the kids’ level. And so you had this modern day prophet surrounded by children.
Jeffrey D. Allred: It was Biblical. If you think about the Savior and how He loved the children, and it's just so symbolic and so similar to that same situation. It was just remarkable. And I remember also on that same tour, Elder Stevenson had said while he was giving a talk, he said, “You know, you read the headlines of the day. There's disaster here, there's something over here, and this sports team did this, and we read all these headlines.” But he said, “The headline should read there's a prophet on the earth, and there's a prophet in your city right now.” And that's always stuck with me, always. And so maybe that's part of it. Will they ever get to see President Nelson again? Probably not. This was a pretty key moment.
Sarah Jane Weaver: There were so many moments from that tour. I remember my favorite moment of the tour was when we were at a stadium, in the basement, in Peru. And this young girl actually yelled out to President Nelson, and she says, “What do I do if my parents aren't active in the Church?'' And he turned and he looked her in the eyes, and he said, “You and I are just alike.” And this happened moments after he had met with the president of that nation, and yet he's turned, he's talking to her, and he's saying, “We're just the same, I'm as humble as this child in Peru.” And then he talked about his own upbringing, and the fact that when he was a young boy, his parents had not been active in the Church either, and he gave her some really profound direction, and it was, “Your family and your friends will know the light of the Savior, they will recognize it when they see it in you.” And that's something we've seen all over. It was great to be in Rome (Italy) with President Nelson, and have him and all of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve stand in front of ancient Apostles and the Christus statue and take an iconic picture. You were in charge of making sure that that picture came off, you were the photographer then. Was that a little bit of pressure?
Jeffrey D. Allred: No pressure at all. Yes, the pressure was there. What's interesting about the picture is they gave us some headway. They gave us some lead time. And so they said, “We want to do a picture. This is an iconic temple.” We had to keep this under wraps. They said, “Do not tell your wife, do not tell your kids, don't tell anybody that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are all going to be there.”
So, a few months before this picture was taken, they said, “Go over, scout it out, figure out a place to shoot this picture, report back and let us know what you found.” So, we went over and looked everywhere. We went into the temple, we went into the foyer, we went to the celestial room. We're looking everywhere where we could shoot this beautiful picture of 15 General Authorities, and we looked at the visitor center. We looked outside the visitor center, we looked on the grounds, and we went everywhere. And we took pictures and we figured out the time of day. And they had come to us and said, “We really want to shoot this picture at 4:30 in the afternoon.” And we said, “Our findings were that you can't do that. If we shoot this in the visitor center with the Christus behind you with the 12 statues of the Apostles, the sun's gonna be right in your eyes, you'll be squinting, it'll be horrible.” And we told them that. We said, “We cannot do this and make you look good.”
So then we'd scouted draping the windows, and we tried to figure out some different things, but the bottom line is they took our recommendations. They said to President Nelson, "We need to do this at 11 a.m. We've got to do this at 11 a.m." And he said, “Okay, we'll make it happen. Well, the sessions will be moved around. We'll just do it.” And so, as we're doing this picture, I'm thinking, this is pretty amazing, because I get to tell them what to do. How many times you get to do that? I'm kidding.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You're the only one.
Jeffrey D. Allred: You know, I got to tell you though, President Nelson is so humble. And he just nods and says, “What do you want me to do? I'll do it.” So anyway, we lined up these chairs. We've got the Christus behind him. We've got the Twelve, and I was a little worried because some of the Twelve are a little stoic, let’s just say that. And I was worried. I really was worried that we wouldn't get a smile. There was nothing further from the truth. These men were having such a ball, they were having such a great time. They were happy to be there. They were smiling. They were shooting self-pictures of each other, and their wife's pictures. And they’re like “Jeff, come please shoot this picture, "I want to be by Peter." Elder Uchtdorf, "I want to be by Paul." "And I want to be by John.” And you know, all these Apostles are just having a great, great time.
And so the time comes. We're going to shoot them in their dark suits. And then right after that, we're going to have them dress in their temple whites. And so we line them up, everybody's happy, the lighting is perfect. The Apostles and the First Presidency are perfect. And there's a crowd in the room, and they're all watching and shooting their selfies. And this moment all came together, and we were prepared, we were ready, and the picture came off really nice. So good. We shot the two pictures, dark suits, white suits inside. Then we went outside, dark suits, white suits. And it just was a beautiful scene.
Sarah Jane Weaver: The symbolism of that moment, of the Savior and His ancient apostles, and modern day Prophet and Apostles carrying on the work that started millennia ago was just so profound.
Jeffrey D. Allred: It's amazing. This moment was incredible, and I was very happy to do that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: He (President Nelson) actually called the Rome Temple dedication a hinge point in the Church. And from that event, we went forward with new momentum that I could feel. I'm sure you felt it. I think every Latter-day Saint in the world felt it. And I remember another moment when I thought, “I can't believe I get to be a part of witnessing this” was last year when we were in Guatemala. And this is a stadium, it’s filled with people. And you've got more than 20,000 local Latter-day Saints. And yet, when President and Sister Nelson walked in, it was silent. They stood and there was a reverence there. You could have heard a pin drop.
Jeffrey D. Allred: It's amazing. Because if you think about that quiet little moment, these people had been in that stadium for hours before they wanted to bring these people in early and get them seated and be ready. Because I mean, you've got a multitude of people here. And so they had been in there and they were hot, and they were hungry, and they were tired. And as soon as he walked in, it was there, the respect was there. The reverence was there. The Spirit was there.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you can compare that to covering basketball games, and football games, and rock concerts where people respond a little differently to whoever is going to be on the stage.
Jeffrey D. Allred: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, these people in Guatemala are something else, and they're getting another temple. So that brings, that'll be the fourth temple, I think in Guatemala. So you can see how truly great they are. You can see that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And when President Nelson left that day after the devotional, they waved white handkerchiefs, and you were sort of behind him and you took this picture. That is one of my favorites. Tell us about taking that photo.
Jeffrey D. Allred: So if you think about photography, generally you want to be in front of your subject, you want them facing you, or maybe just off a 45 degree angle, that's generally your shot. I mean, that's what you try to shoot. Sometimes, you just have to go with something totally different. And it's standing behind them. And you think well, how in the world are you gonna get anything looking into their backs? And this one paid off. I mean, sometimes you win, sometimes you don't, but these beautiful handkerchiefs, and they're waving them, and the crowd is waving them, and this whole spirit about the place was incredible. I mean, you're talking about this massive soccer stadium. I mean, this thing is huge, and it's spread out. And yet, everybody is in that key moment, focused on what's truly important, and it's this message that President Nelson brought them. I mean, it’s a message that is so simple, that a lot of people never get, but these people get it, they get it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, let's compare and contrast that to what happened just a few months later, in Southeast Asia, where in Guatemala, you have thousands of people in a stadium, and in Vietnam, we were in a hotel ballroom with hundreds.
Jeffrey D. Allred: This is remarkable. And we were just kind of scratching our heads too. It's like, “Wait a minute, I thought he wanted to see just as many people as possible.” I mean, that's what I was thinking, and yet it makes so much sense. Think about these beautiful Vietnamese people, and they're dressed in their native, natural, beautiful colors. And it was remarkable. I mean, you could just turn your camera and shoot pictures and everything looked great, and yet there are only a few hundred people in there. And it makes sense because President Nelson is maybe not worried about the masses. He's worried about the one, he’s worried about that one person. He wants to touch that one person. And if you think about the gospel, that's it. I mean, it is that one person. “If you save one, how great shall be your joy.” And so that was wonderful.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Jeff, I have so appreciated having you with me today, I'm gonna let you have the final word on this podcast. If you could tell us what you know now, after having the opportunity to photograph and record photos of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of documenting a living record of the Restoration. What would that be? What do you know now that you didn't know before having a chance to photograph the Church?
Jeffrey D. Allred: President Nelson's wife, Wendy, came to us after one of these devotionals and she said, “President Nelson was on his knees praying for each of you journalists by name last night, and he wanted you to be able to do the best job you could to be the eyes and ears for the masses.” And boy, that smacked me like a two-by-four. It's like, "Are you kidding? He doesn't have to pray for me. But he is." He cares about the one. He cares about that one person. He's not worried about the distractions of the world. He's not worried about impressing anybody. One day, I think it was in Bengaluru, India. President Nelson was looking for a new site for the temple in Bengaluru, India. But he was on top of the building a couple stories up and he's looking and he's looking, I'm photographing him. And as we went down, as I went to get on the elevator, he jumped in. He says, “Can I ride with you?” And just then, Elder (Jeffrey R.) Holland jumped in and says, “I want to get in too.” And the thing that impressed me is that President Nelson tries to make everybody important. And he was asking me questions, and he was asking me what I thought of this and how I got pictures there, and he was genuinely interested in that one person, me.
And so what I take away is that President Nelson is truly the Lord’s prophet on this earth, is truly the man for this time. He is perfect right now at what he's doing, and that is leading us back to our Savior. He's perfect at getting us closer to God.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I'm your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you've learned something today about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Thanks to our guest, to my producer, KellieAnn Halverson, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.