Tennessee Alumnus

The Cover Photo

Jason Gregory was a UT Knoxville student in 1993 when he shot this photo.

Who is that man, and what is he doing? Is that what you think when you look at the cover for the winter 2014 issue? We hope it made you wonder and then want to open the magazine.

The black-and-white photo accompanies the cover story about Eyes on LaFollette, a photojournalism project at UT Knoxville that is marking 20 years. Each year Professor Rob Heller takes his students to the town of LaFollette to photograph people in the town, and the best photos are published in the town newspaper.

This photo was shot by Jason Gregory in 1993. Here is the caption that went with the photo published in the newspaper:

The static of the CB radio crackles into the conversation. To a career cab driver like Roy Woodrow, this signals another fare. Roy, known simply as Woody, adjusts the squelch and receives the pick-up point from ‘Muscles,’ his part-time dispatcher. Woody, unlike the big city cab driver, always lends an eager hand with the groceries and other parcels.”

With some help from Dr. Heller, I got in touch with Jason to find out what he is doing now. He is living in Knoxville and working at Scripps Networks Interactive.

Alumnus: Obviously, you were a student at UT Knoxville when you took this photo, but I understand you did not graduate from UT. Instead you transferred to Western Kentucky University?

Jason: Shortly after the advanced photojournalism class did the first Eyes on LaFollette project, I took a semester off to figure what direction I needed to take photographically. I had taken all the photojournalism classes at UT Knoxville, some of them twice, and was the photo editor of the Daily Beacon. I assisted local professionals in my spare time, hoping to learn enough to raise my skills to a level whereby I could make a living shooting full-time. Professionally, I knew I needed more practice and experience. During this break, I attended a Mountain People’s workshop which is sponsored by WKU. It was an intense few days of documentary photography with honest nightly critiques, and I do mean honest. In talking with the students from the school, I knew that the intensity of this program would make me a better photographer and journalist. I also learned from a former UT student attending the workshop that I was eligible to enroll at WKU and pay in-state tuition through the Academic Common Market program, since there were no accredited photojournalism programs in the state of Tennessee at that time. The photojournalism program at WKU is rigorous and competitive. You measure your success against the high standards of the faculty and the work produced by your fellow students, some of whom have Pulitzer Prizes in their future. Overall, a very immersive documentary photography experience.

Alumnus: Tell me more about shooting this photo that is on the cover. How did you find this man, Mr. Woodrow?

Jason: Professor Heller had just turned us loose on LaFollette and all I can think of is, “I better start taking pictures of something.” In a workshop situation, you want to get something good in the bag quickly. But, you also have to remain open to opportunities to expand a story at the risk of coming back with nothing. Hoping when you show up the next day they don’t say, “I thought about it and I’m not interested anymore.” I remember walking down the street and seeing these two guys working on a cab, both of which look interesting and so begins a conversation. I explained why I was walking around town with a camera and asked them if they would let me hang around and shoot some pictures. I made some images, nothing extraordinary, but they said I could come back tomorrow. Luckily, when I went back the next day, Woody was still willing, the cab was fixed and I was excited to see a typical fare in LaFollette.

Alumnus: What do you think about the photo?

Jason: It’s a straightforward portrait capturing a simple moment.

Alumnus: Why do you think it’s a good photo?

Jason: It is a subtle image, but one that works for me on a couple of levels. The distance in the gaze raises questions. You wonder what he is thinking about. The quality of the window light reinforces the reflective mood. It’s a quiet image, but I think it describes Woody.

Alumnus: What do you do at Scripps Networks Interactive?

Jason: I currently work in online advertising after spending eight years in video production.

Alumnus: Are you still a photographer?

Jason: You can’t help but be a photographer these days. My phone has more megapixels than my first DSLR. Yes, I still shoot digital stills, video and on a rare occasion film.

Alumnus: How did the Eyes on LaFollette project benefit you as a student?

Jason: Projects like Eyes on LaFollette develop skills you can’t get in a classroom like establishing rapport with a subject. For an aspiring journalist, it gives you the confidence to approach people, ask questions, and discover their stories. Just being around motivated students and a supportive faculty made for a formative educational experience for me.