Photojournalist Isaac Hale Says South Utah County Among Favorite Places to Photograph
As photojournalist Isaac Hale drove on the country roads leading out to Benjamin in South Utah County, it felt like home. His assignment was to photograph a 100-year-old family farm for a local publication, and as he looked around at the seemingly endless miles of farmland, something felt very familiar.
A native of Piqua, Ohio, Hale moved to Utah to utilize his degree in photojournalism, taking on jobs for the Daily Herald, The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Valley University.
While several of his photos have been published by the likes of ESPN, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today, he said that he loves the local feel of small towns —particularly those in South Utah County.
“I have a soft spot for South Utah County,” Hale said. “I’m used to farming and corn fields. It reminds me of my small-town home in Ohio that is still heavily influenced by agriculture. I also love the feel of a close-knit community.”
Hale reminisced on his time spent in the communities and outskirts in the south valley.
He spoke about photographing neighborhoods affected by the Pole Creek and Bald Mountain Fires in 2018, describing what it was like to immortalize moments as events unfolded.
“When I arrived on scene to photograph the fires, I found myself among the locals in Payson as we tried to figure out what was happening,” Hale recalled. “We were all experiencing it together in real time.”
Being part of the experience is one thing that Hale said he enjoys about photojournalism. In fact, many of his subjects he photographs have become like friends, and others like family.
“I shot some photos of the Springville Hobble Creek Wranglers, and before I knew it, I was shooting guns with them at the range,” Hale said.
“I spent nine months taking pictures of Springville pro bareback rider Mason Clements. Spending time in the rodeo scene not only taught me about the sport, but I learned to love the rodeo community.”
Getting close to the people he photographs can also take an emotional toll because it isn’t always smiles and triumphs. Recently, Hale became really close to a young teen who would, through the process of being documented, lose his life to cancer.
“In 2020, I photographed and interviewed 17-year-old Maple Mountain quarterback Bryson McQuivey who was diagnosed with terminal cancer his senior year,” Hale said.
“I was able to spend time with Bryson, his family and teammates, and during my time with him, I was fortunate to experience some profound moments.
“Seeing a 17-year-old have to come to grips with his own mortality — that’s a lot. He seemed very at peace. I went to some football games and treatments. I saw a community come together, and I became part of that community. Bryson passed away a couple of days before Thanksgiving 2020, I still keep in touch with his family.”
Hale said that seeing people through his lens has helped him see people in a good light, which, according to him, is both a literal and figurative statement.
“I show up to events and people’s homes and farms, and bring my lights and camera to take some pictures,” Hale said. “The lights may help bring out the best in them physically, but what I experience as I photograph them is often a restored faith in humanity. People really are good. Being with ordinary people who do extraordinary things as part of their daily life, really helps you to love people.”
Hale, who is an avid bike rider himself, recalled photographing Vietnam War Veteran Jim Taylor who rides his bike up and down Payson Canyon each day in an effort to combat PTSD. Those photos were part of a story that was syndicated nationally.
Hale has spent time with mountain bike locals Carey Pierce and Jesse Sorensen, as he documented the trail building efforts in the Fourbay area.
Hale said that while he loves taking their photos, it is even more rewarding seeing them in action doing those everyday extraordinary things.
“I remember photographing Jim Taylor as he rode up the Canyon, and helping to share his story,” Hale said. “I’ve gone up Payson Canyon several times, and sure enough, there’s Jim riding his bike.”
Hale said that he may be a transplant to Utah from a small town in Ohio, but he feels like home here in the Beehive State and has even made plans of staying here long term.
“I moved to Utah not knowing a single soul,” He recalled.
“Through photographing the people here, I have found a deep love for the community, and I hope to make this place my home.”
Hale currently works part-time as a photographer for the athletic department at Utah Valley University, and as a freelance photojournalist and photographer in various capacities across the state.
To see the world through the lens of it Isaac Hale, go to isaachalephoto.com or find him on Instagram @isaachalephoto. (Brown is a Serve Daily contributor.)