Photos by: John Messner
Article by: Debra Dylan
“When I was sixteen, a man taught me black and white photography, and I started working at a newspaper. That was over thirty years ago,” says John Messner.
Today he works full time renovating rental houses. “I consider my photography a hobby. I always keep my camera with me, and I listen to the police scanner whenever I can.”
Last year his hobby led him to a scene he could not have anticipated. “I just went up there [Fort Sanders neighborhood] to take pictures of kids [at a party] getting arrested and put into the paddy wagon. I was up on some steps near the paddy wagon. I took a total of 350 photos,” he says.
One of those photos went viral. Messner was in the right place at the right time when a Sheriff’s deputy began using a compression hold on a young man’s neck. Messner says, “He was squeezing the boy’s carotid arteries until the boy’s legs gave in. I was scared. I thought he was going to die.” Messner made a time lapse video of sixty photos relating to this incident.
He says, “I never went out that night with the intention of photographing a Deputy choking [Jarod] Dotson. I don’t get great pleasure being the one who captured it. I wish it never happened, but it did. What kind of person would I be if I saw Dotson abused like that and remained silent?”
Almost 10,000 people follow Messner’s Knoxville Crime Facebook page, but he does have his detractors. “The families of the victims are the most sensitive. I don’t show the face on a dead body. I took photos yesterday of a guy that was shot and was lying behind a house.
“People will notify the victim’s family that their relative’s photo is on my Facebook page. They will go to the page and then ask me to take the picture down. I’m not taking it down. We have a right to see it. It was more than just your relative who got shot. They were attempting to rob drug dealers, and that neighborhood was terrorized by all the shots fired. They threatened to kill people,” he explains.
“You never know what you are going to get when you get out there,” he says. “I’m desensitized to what I see. I’m more worried about my photography and I try to stay focused. The funny thing is I take pictures, but when I get home and look at the photos, I have things I didn’t know I had.”
His portrait and action scenes are not deliberately artistic. “I thought the photo of the Linden Avenue fire (below) looked like a painting, but I didn’t see it that way as it was happening.”
(click on photos to enlarge)
These photos may not be downloaded or used without John Messner’s permission.
© Knoxzine, 2015 (text only).