Conference Was a Turning Point for Photographer
Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
“It’s all about choice. Do you choose to listen? Do you choose to feel the message? And I choose all those things.” —Danny La, photographer
Growing up, Danny La always felt like he didn’t quite fit in. In his family were lawyers, doctors, and NASA engineers. He was drawn to art, photography, and storytelling—which eventually led him to become a photographer.
By 2004 he had been working for a local newspaper in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, for several years and had experienced general conference through a camera lens more than a dozen times. But during the April 2004 conference, a talk given by then-Church President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) changed his perspective.
During his talk entitled “The Dawning of a Brighter Day,” President Hinckley said, “We can never compromise the doctrine which has come through revelation, but we can live and work with others, respecting their beliefs and admiring their virtues, joining hands in opposition to . . . those perils which have been with man from the beginning. Without surrendering any element of our doctrine, we can be neighborly, we can be helpful, we can be kind and generous.”
“I recall a feeling of something hitting my heart,” Danny said. “I had a feeling that [President Hinckley] was no ordinary man, that he was somebody doing a great work.”
A Different Perspective
Danny had had many experiences with Latter-day Saints throughout his life up to that point.
His family had fled Vietnam when he was just nine months old, eventually ending up in the home of Bountiful couple Larry and Rachel Scott, Church members who took the family in for a few months and helped them procure jobs and housing. They became like another set of grandparents to Danny.
“Growing up in Taylorsville I had LDS friends, but I just didn’t think the Church was for me,” he said. “But I always knew there was something a little different about LDS families and LDS gatherings. It just felt a little different.”
In high school, his friend Laura Affleck (née Gunderson) gave Danny a Book of Mormon, which he read. Again, Danny said, “I could feel there was something very interesting about the book, but my mindset was that the Church was not for me.”
It wasn’t until college that a friend, William Mitchell, asked him what he thought of the Book of Mormon—if he thought it was true—and “to my surprise, what came out of my mouth was ‘I do,’” Danny said. “But I said, once again, “That church-y stuff is not for me.”
Danny went on to work as a photographer for a Salt Lake newspaper, for which he often covered general conference and other Church events. And in 2004 he began to see things through a different lens.
A Flash of Light
When Danny arrived at the Sunday morning session of conference in April 2004, it was like every other time he had been assigned to shoot conference.
“I had no interest in joining the Church. I didn’t believe any of it,” he said.
But in the middle of taking photos, President Hinckley’s message reached him.
“It was almost like being punched in the chest, in my heart,” Danny said. “It was really a surprise to feel what I felt.”
Through his decade in photojournalism, Danny had covered events at many churches, gone to many churches, and observed and photographed them, so he felt he had a healthy dose of objectivity.
Although he didn’t forget that experience, Danny came to a “working peace” with it, deciding that “even if it was all true, [he] couldn’t be a member.”
Then four years later, in 2008, a series of family difficulties brought local Church members to perform dozens of acts of kindness for the La family. Their selfless service opened Danny’s heart to the gospel.
“I didn’t ever have anything against the Church, but I was always skeptical,” Danny said. “It was the message President Hinckley gave at conference that cracked the door, though. . . . And the last mile I chose to follow the Savior.”
In February 2009 Brother Scott baptized Danny. That year Danny attended his first general conference as a member of the Church.
A Sharper Focus
When he became a member of the Church, Danny was drawn to family history, and in 2010, while he was visiting family, a great-uncle showed him a family genealogy book that listed more than 15 generations of Las he now had the opportunity to record.
“I had always felt that the Church was not for me, but the irony is I joined the Church and I realized where I belonged in my family structure,” Danny said.
As a member, he’s also building his own family structure. In March 2010, a year after his baptism, Danny, his wife, and their children were sealed in the temple.
“It’s all about choice. Do you choose to listen? Do you choose to feel the message? And I choose all those things,” he said. “When you practice what you hear at conference, you can make things better for your own family and for your own ward, as well as for people not of our faith.”
Since his conversion, Danny has worked as a conference photographer several times.
“I look back now and understand more of what I felt when I was listening to the words of President Hinckley,” he said. “I get that feeling now when I listen to President Monson. . . . It’s been an interesting journey for a skeptic.”