"Unreal."

That's the title of the grand-prize winner of the 2018 National Geographic Photo Contest. It showcases a car graveyard in California's Mojave Desert, full of thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars (that were actually among millions) recalled following the infamous emissions cheating scandal that eventually became known as Dieselgate.

The photo was taken by Jassen Todorov, a distinguished concert violinist who has performed around the world. His photo beat out thousands of entries to claim the grand prize, which included $5,000 in cash.

The story behind the shot

Todorov, who is also a pilot, had flown over the Mojave many times, according to a recent profile in National Geographic.

He was familiar with the Southern California Logistics Airport, which had long been used to store retired airplanes used for scrap metal or parts. But Todorov also knew that a large stretch of land next to the airport now stored thousands of Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, poignant symbols of the corporate greed and dishonesty that caused the emissions scandal.

Before attempting what would prove to be a very unique photo session, the pilot researched the area on Google maps to help him envision the scene and create his flight plan. Then, on a hot day in late May, he boarded his small plane--a 1976 Piper Warrior--and set out to get the shot of a lifetime.

Todorov planned several passes above the scene, maintaining careful and clear communication with the airport tower for safety.  

"Simultaneously flying, communicating with airport control, and photographing is a juggling act Todorov has refined over the years," writes Sarah Polger for National Geographic. "A mix of emotion swept over the pilot as he approached the area."

The sight of thousands of cars sitting idle and collecting dust in the middle of the desert is a powerful one. Just as powerful is the fact that the Southern California Logistics Airport is only one of 37 sites that currently stores such cars, turned in by owners after the recall.

"By capturing scenes like this one, I hope we will all become more conscious of and more caring toward our beautiful planet," wrote Todorov in a caption accompanying his photo.

Kudos to Todorov for such an amazing photo.

Volkswagen should have it enlarged--and hung front and center at its corporate headquarters.

Published on: Dec 19, 2018
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