SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A local photographer is using his skills to portray the human side of the men and women who serve and protect. ABC4 News went Behind the Badge to see him at work during a recent portrait session at Salt Lake Unified Police headquarters.
Benny Bamba says that the only time he ever heard an officer’s name on the news was if they had done something wrong or if they were injured or killed in the line of duty. He decided to change that by telling their stories through the lens of his camera.
“When I do the portraits they come with a story,” Bamba said. “Who you are. What you do and why you came into law enforcement. Why you’re in law enforcement…Anyone can take a pretty picture but it’s always the story that you know who’s behind the badge so anytime you see any picture of mine there’s going to be a story attached to it on who they are.”
Bamba was saddened that when Millard County Sheriff’s Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox was killed in the line of duty in 2010, she didn’t have an official department portrait. He was determined to let that never happen again so he began volunteering to photograph officers, giving them the prints for free.
“His support of law enforcement like what he’s doing here today, it’s really special to us,” UPD Kearns Precinct Chief Brian Lohrke said. “It’s a keepsake that we can pass along to our families, that our kids can have.”
Chief Lohrke’s wife, UPD Detective Heatherlyn Lohrke, has also been one of Bamba’s subjects.
“It shows different sides of us,” she said. “Where mostly the public sees us in bad settings, where it’s a crime that’s occurred and that’s where you guys usually respond to so it’s not a good time…This is something we can smile, have fun with. You can see we’re real people and have families.”
“Cops, they always front,” Bamba said. “They’ll have this joking, they’ll smile. They’ll let you know everything’s OK.”
But often everything isn’t. West Valley City Officer Michael Valdes was a friend who took his own life in 2013.
“It was when he passed away that hit me hard,” Bamba said.
Benny says Valdes never agreed to be photographed, then he reflects on his subjects who are no longer with us.
“Sergeant Derek Johnson with Draper Police Department, I actually did a portrait of him when he was with the JCAT (Joint Criminal Apprehension Team) here at UPD,” Bamba said. “Officer Rion Phillips with VECC (Valley Emergency Communications Center). He passed away from a motorcycle accident…You never realize how close you are until they’re gone.”
Another one of his favorite shots? Cottonwood Heights Police Sergeant Tom Daugherty and K-9 Officer Chip a moment frozen in time forever.
“Chip was just laying down and Daugherty went to go kiss him. That was one of the pictures that stood out just because Chip just passed away from cancer,” Bamba said. “I’m basically shedding a light on law enforcement. Their commitment, their service, their sacrifice. They go through a lot and I just want to make sure people see that.”
Benny continues to stay busy. This week he’s in Colorado photographing the men and women of the Grand Junction Police Department and the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.