Late afternoon Saturday, a crowd of about 50 people accumulates on Market Square, impeding early-evening boulevardiers. Some have white hair, some tattoos. Some appear to be dressed for a cocktail party, some for a backcountry campout. They have one thing in common: Each person in the crowd carries a fairly expensive camera.
The center of their undivided attention is a compact man with a graying van dyke. He wears a Hawaiian shirt and an orange cap with Chinese lettering on the front, and exhorts them like an evangelist, gesturing up and down the street, talking about alleys and corners and photogenic doors. "It's just a beautiful place to shoot!" he says. "Look at all the textures of the buildings. The shaded alleyways, the friendly people. How much better can it get than this?"
The odd mob breaks up and dissipates in several directions, individually and in small groups. They're participating in a global project. Today, more than 8,000 photographers in about 275 cities from London to Hong Kong are taking pictures. Organized by well-known photographer Scott Kelby, the project is called Photo Walk. The results will be posted on a website.
The charismatic Knoxville leader is photographer Steve Chastain, who teaches Photoshop at the University of Tennessee. "I walk Market Square every weekend," he says, taking pictures. Today, he's mainly coaching. He organized the Knoxville group, both amateurs and pros. Some are from Oak Ridge or Maryville. In the group is a prominent attorney and a man who says he's in "nuclear forensics." One is Chastain's daughter Joanna, who teaches eighth grade at South-Doyle. Most don't know each other, though one woman is startled to recognize one fellow photographer. "He's my plumber!" she says.
Chastain capped off the group at 50, and had to turn some away. Characters that downtowners take for granted are objects of fascination. The Barney Fife impersonator at the Tennessee Theatre poses with his bullet. "I shot Barney before he could shoot me!" says one photographer. The Market Square guitarist sings Simon and Garfunkle—"I said be careful, his bowtie is really a camera"—as six photographers shoot him from different angles and distances. A Ft. Loudoun Redcoat, part of the dwindling history festival, is caught talking on a cellphone. A photographer climbs up to join the bronze suffragettes. "Am I suffering?" she asks as several shoot.
There's some urgency. At 6:38 p.m., Chastain announces, "The light's getting just perfect! It doesn't get any better."
They all seem buzzed, like overstimulated kids at a birthday party. "Isn't this so cool," says one adult on the Square, where a couple hundred people are potential subjects. "The city's just alive. It's so cool." One young man juggles silver pins; another walks on his hands. Children splash in fountains. It's August 23, 2008.
The results of the shoot will soon be posted at: www.flickr.com/groups/scott-kelby-worldwide-photowalk-knoxville/.