Kingsport native photographs Hurricane Michael devastation

Holly Viers • Updated Jan 14, 2019 at 12:19 PM
KINGSPORT – Since picking up photography three years ago, Kingsport native Phil Gregg has been on no shortage of adventures.

Last year, Gregg took one of his most memorable trips to Havana, Cuba, meeting the people and exploring the historic town. His most recent trip was to Mexico Beach, where he photographed the extensive damage still in place from Hurricane Michael.

But Gregg isn’t stopping there. A self-described “amateur photojournalist,” Gregg already has trips to the Caribbean and Egypt in his sights, along with another potential visit to Cuba.

“I like for the camera to tell the story,” Gregg said. “Sometimes it’s these really sad things; sometimes it’s these really happy things. I just really like to go out and … take photos to share with everybody else. It started as just a little hobby, and now here we are.”

The hobby begins

Gregg attributes his love and talent for photography in part to many nights spent observing the stars. He purchased a mirror telescope, along with his first digital single-lens reflex camera and a fitting to allow the camera to adapt to the telescope.

“I spent many, many cold nights outside snapping away pictures of far-away stars way up into the wee hours. Wintertime in Tennessee is the best time to shoot as the atmosphere is colder and more stable, and there are more sights to see, such as Saturn and Betelgeuse/Orion’s Belt,” Gregg said. “From there, I took interest in landscape photography, and then looked for ways to further the ability to tell a story with the camera.”

As for his adventurous spirit, Gregg owes much of that to his father, who passed away on Gregg’s birthday in 2016 after a battle with cancer.

“It was in the days following his death, I realized life is way too short to not do the things you have dreamed of, or to break out of the normalcy of everyday life and do something,” Gregg said. “Sure, it makes me very sad to think back on it. Then again, that was the first day in a long time where I felt like I was moving in the right direction rather than spinning my wheels, just getting by. It's a wake-up call if you let it be. I chose for it to be a positive thing in my life.”

Traveling the globe

Over the last three years, Gregg has visited numerous cities, states and countries and has nearly filled a four-foot “travel tree” with keychains from each of his destinations.

Some of his most memorable trips include Cuba, the Bahamas, the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and Helen, Georgia, which Gregg describes as a “little Germany.” Another of Gregg’s favorite trips was to Alaska, which he visited as part of a cruise.

“You’ve got flowers blooming and then behind that, you’ve got a mountain with snow on it and a glacier,” Gregg said. “We went up to a musher camp; that was one of the most interesting things, I think. You actually were able to ride a dog sled, but it was on wheels.”

The aftermath of the storm

During his most recent trip, taken a week before Christmas, Gregg packed up his camera and headed to Mexico Beach, Florida, to see how the area was recovering from Hurricane Michael, which hit last October.

But rather than seeing progress, Gregg said there was devastation “everywhere you look.” He said many people are still living in temporary housing, and around 1,500 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers are still onsite.

“It was wild,” Gregg said. “Just to stand in the middle of this, rubble all around you, I didn’t know where to even point the camera.”

Moving forward

Though he has some other trips planned for this year, Gregg’s biggest adventure will be to Egypt in the fall. Gregg plans to stay with a politician, who will show him not only the well-known sites, such as the pyramids at Giza, but also some lesser-known attractions.

“Photojournalism has grown very special to me; it's a way to show the observer exactly what is happening, and a way to look back later at a historical record of the event,” Gregg said. “Sometimes it may be to show how people live in a far-away, hard-to-access country or place. I am still learning the processes of the business; I suppose that's what draws me to it so much. There is never an end to learning; something new is always happening to record, and new places to share.”