Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- Ride down a road in Southwest Georgia and, more than likely, at some point you'll see some train boxcars sitting idle on a track.

For most people, it's a sight that just tends to blend into the rural scenery, much like pine trees, kudzu and wire fences.

For photographer Bob Parker, it is the scenery.

"A lot of this stuff (old train boxcars), you'd never look twice at it," he said. "But there's a lot of it that's real small that looks cool."

That's not to say Parker's the first photographic artist who's focused on trains. He may be, however, unique in how he focuses on them, and the style and methods he uses are certainly getting rarer in this increasingly digital age.

About 40 of his works will be on display starting Wednesday at his "The Really Big Picture Show" exhibit at the Albany Area Arts Council, 215 N. Jackson St. If you're expecting to see conventional train photos, however, you'll be surprised and impressed by both the imagery and the size of the works.

"This is just some modern photography done here in Albany of things that I found while just out walking around that looked really cool to me and made me very happy when I saw it through the viewfinder just because it looked really nice," Park said Thursday as the show was being hung at the council headquarters. "I was hoping I could get what I saw through the viewfinder on film and make a great picture out of it.

"Sometimes you wait and wait and wait until the light gets right ... get a book and start reading instead of just bam, bam and moving on. I don't do digital and you've got to be right."

What he has produced are larger-than-lifesize images of minute details he has found on trains. The shots of areas only an inch or two wide are blown up to two or three feet wide.

"I like to have them big because they have more impact that way," said Parker, whose "day job" is a sales associate in the men's suits department at J.C. Penney.

The result is a series of wonderfully vibrant abstract images that in some cases make you think you're looking at paint on canvas.

"This is why, from a director's viewpoint, that I think it's so interesting -- he has taken graffiti on trains and he has taken a very small portion of a piece of the graffiti and he has blown it up and has made these photographs that technically look like paintings," Deborah Loehr, executive director of the arts council, said. "You feel the texture, but it strictly is a photograph. And the thing that I think is so wonderful about his work is that it's not digital. He still relies on proper lighting, proper equipment -- he's from the old school. He's sort of a dinosaur."

Parker chuckled at the dinosaur reference, but it may describe some of his works -- bigger than life, colorful and created through a style that is disappearing and printed in method that's extinct, at least for photographic art that's three or four feet wide.

"These (prints) were done in the old optical way," he said, pointing to some of the largest pieces in the show. "These are some of the last optically done big prints that they put the paper on the wall and then they projected the image and they enlarged it that way. You can't do this anymore."

Any future prints made in those large sizes will have to be created not through the traditional enlarging process, but through a method known as giclee in which photos are reproduced with an ink-jet process.

Parker says he has no intentions of abandoning his film, which he has been shooting since 1968, in this digital age. "I just prefer film," he said. "It's a lot more fun."

He does a great deal of black-and-white photography that he has exhibited. "The Really Big Picture Show" is a change for him. "In fact," Loehr said, "this is sort of like him stepping out."

"I wanted to do color just to let people know I could do color if I wanted to," Parker quipped.

Asked why he chose trains for his subject matter, Parker said he wasn't sure. It just happened. "I just thought I'd try something different today and went out and started shooting them," he said.

It takes a keen eye and sense of composition to get the images he pulls from rusting boxcars and the graffiti on them.

One photo appeared to show strata of earth. It was formed by chemicals that had crystallized on the box car.

Another looks out of this world, reminiscent of Jupiter, complete with orbiting asteroids. "That was on a train and it was a circle that was painted on there a long, long time ago and it just started rusting and it looked so cool," he said.

One smaller piece has neutral geometric designs with a little unexpected punch of red. It was just a small rusted area on a boxcar. "What I like about this one is that in a sea of sameness, there's just a little bit different," he said.

"It's not all perfect, too," he said. "It's not all smooth. It's got imperfections in it, different things going on. I like that too."

One piece that will likely draw discussion -- this week, especially -- is his World Trade Center tribute. It shows a hauntingly familiar, yet abstract image that is reminiscent of one of the WTC buildings in a warm orange-red hue, with a long, dark smoky-looking line coming from it on a diagonal. He displays it between two horizontally linear images of red, white and blue.

"All of this stuff I had a lot of fun shooting until I got to this one," Parker said." When I saw this one, it was kind of scary because it looks like one of the towers. It looks like smoke. It looks like the tower is full of blood. And I put it with this ... looks like America has been run over. I've never shown it anywhere before."

One of the remarkable characteristics of his work is he doesn't do any image manipulations. What you see is exactly what he saw through the viewfinder. No dodging. No Photoshop.

"I like my darkroom to be my camera," Parker said." I don't like to monkey around with it. If you get it there, then it's there. You don't need to do anything else to it except to make it bigger.

"It's just more fun for me to get the image and the moment I was there and the light there and it's like hitting a home run."


WHAT: Photography exhibit by Bob Parker

WHEN: Wednesday through Sept. 30

WHERE: Albany Area Arts Council, 215 N. Jackson St.

HOURS: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday

CONTACT: (229) 439-2787