The cover of the Fall 2019 issue of Smokies Life features a man who, for many, was the face of the Smokies for more than four decades as he hosted nearly half a million overnight guests on the park’s third-highest peak. We interviewed David Brill who wrote the cover story, Dan Thompson who took the cover photo (could he be related to Jim Thompson?), and, of course, Mr. Le Conte himself, Tim Line, about how it all came together.
How did you feel when you found out Smokies Life was going to do a story about you?
My first thought was, “Why would they want to do that?” I was honestly quite hesitant about doing the story to begin with because you never know how it’s going to turn out or what it’s going to look like. However, I have always considered Smokies Life to be a top quality magazine with very well written articles. So I knew they would do a good job.
How did you feel when you were assigned the story about Tim Line?
Any time Smokies Life editor Frances Figart hands me an assignment, I know it’s going to be both challenging and fully engaging. But when the assignment involves lacing up my hiking boots, shouldering a backpack, and entering the park’s backcountry, my first reaction is: “Seriously, you’re going to pay me for doing this?” But in the case of the Tim Line profile, I knew there would be much more to the story than a dash up and down Mount Le Conte.
What was it like for you going back to the mountain and working with David on the story?
I haven’t hiked up to the lodge very much since retiring so that simply gave me the opportunity to get back up there. It’s always good to see the crew, see how things are going and to see the mountain again. David and I had a good time together. We had a perfect trip on our overnight hike to the lodge. He’s easy to talk to and easy to work with and we ended up having a lot in common. And I’ve always liked David’s writing so I knew he would do well.
What was the most challenging part of this assignment for you?
I am an outdoor photographer, which means I am typically relying on natural light, and whatever nature happens to hand me. I also most often photograph subjects that can't talk back, and they don't get frustrated if I come back again and again to make sure I've gotten the "perfect" shot. Knowing all that, it's clear that this assignment to photograph Tim was a bit of a different experience for me. There were a lot of "what if's" that came to mind: “What if good lighting never happens? “What if it rains?” You get the idea.
How did it go posing for the cover shot?
As with David, Dan was easy to work with. I never have cared much about having my picture taken. I think Dan realized that. He has a very laid-back manner, which in turn put me at ease while posing for pictures. I felt both humbled and honored that Smokies Life would even want to do an article, much less a cover article.
How did the final cover image come together?
While Tim and I were walking around the LeConte Lodge trying out different poses and backgrounds, the clouds randomly opened up, revealing some wonderful warm light on the cabin we just happened to be walking past. I quickly had him sit down and I grabbed the shot. I knew that was the cover shot as soon as I saw it on the back of the camera, which immediately set another "what if" at ease—“What if I don't get the shot the magazine is after?”
How do you feel the cover image turned out?
Dan Thompson’s cover portrait perfectly captures Tim’s warm, friendly personality and the rusticity of the lodge’s setting and weather-worn structures. A stunning photograph’s textural elements are hard to describe and even harder to capture, but when you study Dan’s cover photo, you can almost feel the cabin’s rough-hewn surfaces, smell the wood smoke and balsam firs, and get a real sense of the man behind Tim’s grinning countenance.
Why do you think this particular image captures the essence of the story and Tim Line?
I get the sense that Tim Line has never met a stranger. Mr. Brill, in his wonderful piece on Tim, recounts their hike together to the summit of Mt. Le Conte, and he mentions running into some people that Tim knew. The exact same thing happened to us on our way to the top as well, multiple times. We happened to cross paths with some former LeConte Lodge staffers, and Tim of course stopped to talk for a minute, exchanged hugs, and we were on our way again—but he took the time. For the image I wanted the viewer to get a sense of place. The lodge on top of Mt. Le Conte has a fairly distinct look to it, and my guess—my hope—is that when people see that picture of Tim, they automatically know that's on top of Mt. Le Conte. Seeing him sitting there against the weathered wood of the cabins, cast in the warm, late light of the day, to me just gives you a glimpse of his personality. That's Tim!
Why was the story special for you?
I count Tim Line among the more interesting and engaging subjects I’ve ever profiled. Tim and I are about the same age, we both completed end-to-end treks of the Appalachian Trail, we’re both fathers of grown children, and we both love places like Mount Le Conte for their elemental wildness. To have been afforded the opportunity to spend time with—and get to know—this remarkable man, and one I respect greatly, in one of the region’s most beautiful natural settings is why I got into this business in the first place.