Stella hits the road

"Stella" sat in Market Square, downtown Knoxville, during the Dogwood Arts Festival. She was wearing a retro “Turkish Green” and looking fine.

Hardin Valley residents Joe and Kathleen Atkins have an amazing story about how they came to own Stella, their moving photo bus, which has been on road for almost a month now.

The couple launched their photography business, JoPhoto, in 2008, and have been busy shooting 60 weddings a year along with lots of other events. But for a long time, they had an idea in the back of their minds: a moving photo booth.

“I had been searching Craigslist,” Joe said. “Back in 2015, I happened to see an old 1969 VW bus in Kingsport. We were going to be photographing a wedding there that weekend, so I said, 'let’s go see the bus.' We pulled up to a house and the guy there said, ‘People don’t buy VW buses dressed like that.’ We were in our wedding attire, of course. He said, ‘You’re not here for this wedding, are you?’ and pointed to a wedding in his backyard. The whole wedding was set up. We weren’t exactly sure because we hadn’t been there yet, but I said, ‘Yeah, I think that’s it.' It was a crazy coincidence.”

Joe and Kathleen looked over the VW that morning before the wedding and struck up a deal.

“I thought it was in pretty poor shape,” Joe said. “It was dented up and needed a paint job. We called it the Fred Flintstone bus because it had holes in the floor. We hauled it home on a trailer and took it to my uncle’s body shop [Jack’s Body Shop] in Madisonville.”

It was about 15 months before Stella’s makeover was complete.

“We didn’t replace the motor — we just needed to tune it up,” Joe said. “We reupholstered the seats with two-tone vinyl. I built the interior. It has a bamboo ceiling and hardwood floors. We framed a flat panel TV in wood to look like a retro TV. People sit down on the bus seat and see themselves on the TV so they can pose. There are props in the back – hats, masks, boas and signs. We changed the VW color from dark green to lighter green, still an original VW color called ‘Turkish Green.’”

“The official name is the Knox Photo Bus, but we named the bus Stella after Kathleen’s grandmother, Stella Wheeler, who lived in Clinton,” Joe said. “She just passed away two months ago, but we got pictures of her with the bus.”

In just a few weeks Stella already has been to the Dogwood Arts Festival and the Reserve at Bluebird Hill. “We were at Faith Promise Church on Mother’s Day all morning taking pictures before and after services,” Joe said. “We’ll be at Southern Railway on Thursday, June 15, for the third Thursday food truck event.”

Atkins said prices vary for weekdays and weekend events. For more information about Knox Photo Bus, go to or call 865-919-7280. For information about JoPhoto, go to