Almost all of the photography I share on my website here is artistic in nature, but every once in a while I’ll share something that’s more documentarian (like our family pictures, for example).  Very very seldom have I ever shared something I would consider to be more photojournalistic, however this week’s Picture of the Week I would consider to be both photojournalism and documentary.  File this one under pandemic images.

Last year as the world shut down in the wake of COVID-19 and air travel all but came to a halt, airports – once bustling hubs of activity – turned into parking lots for planes, no longer needed by the airlines to ferry customers. Knoxville’s own McGhee Tyson Airport was one of the country’s regional airports that was temporarily converted into a storage location, and one by one the planes started lining up.  I still remember Holly coming home one day and saying “Oh my gosh, have you been by the airport?? There are planes EVERYWHERE! It’s so strange looking!”  According to one of our local news agencies, WBIR, at one point there were 58 airplanes parked along one of the airport’s runways (there were 33 when I took this picture, 4 of which are out of the frame).

The more I looked at it, the more I couldn’t shake the feeling that I really needed to document it.  Something like this had never happened in my lifetime, and I suspect it won’t happen again (please Lord don’t let it happen again!).  So I went about trying to find a good vantage point to photograph the scene.  The normal vantage point of the highway wouldn’t work because, well, it’s generally frowned upon to just stop on the side of a busy highway to take pictures.  I tried my air traffic controller friend to see if I could photograph it from the control tower, but no go because the airbase was closed to everyone non-essential.  I also discovered that the FedEX security guards don’t take too kindly to you climbing on top of your car and setting up photography equipment in their parking lot (to their credit though, they were really nice about telling me to leave and completely understood why someone would want to document it) – it wasn’t that great of a vantage point anyway.  In the end I found a piece of property that was for sale behind one of the car dealerships that had a decent enough view point *if* you had a long enough lens.  I borrowed a longer lens than I have from a friend of mine (thanks Ryan!) and was able to capture the above scene.  I didn’t end up capturing a nice sunset, or even have particularly good lighting… but what I got was the scene, and I captured a memory.  Twenty-nine airplanes lined up along the runway, patiently waiting until the day they could return to the service of transporting passengers from here to there.

More next week!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
McGhee Tyson Airport
McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS), 2055 Alcoa Hwy, Alcoa, TN 37701, USA

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