Twenty-three black-and-white photos line the walls of the art gallery at Asbury University, each depicting a person or place in Wilmore — and each evoking different memories from those who have known the town for decades.
The exhibit, titled “TOWN: a portrait,” is the work of Asbury photography teacher Keith Barker, who first moved to Wilmore in 1982, attended the Jessamine County junior-high and high schools and has worked at the university for the last 12 years. The photos are on display on the second-floor of the Z.T. Johnson Cafeteria.
Barker, 43, has taken most of the photos in the last six months, aiming to create a portrait of the “invisible connections” Wilmorians have.
“I thought it would be interesting to have a series of images that brought that to light and emphasized the connections that we have,” Barker said. “Some of them are real strong connections; others we hadn’t thought of before.”
When he embarked on the project, there was a lot Barker didn’t know — but one picture he knew he wanted was the face of the exhibit: Wilmore icon Leonard Fitch in the parking lot of his grocery store.
“That picture of Leonard was something that I had thought about and envisioned in my mind ahead of time, and so when it came out the way I wanted it to, I really thought this should be a part of the example or the front publicity of the whole show,” Barker said. “A lot of people know Leonard and interact with him, and he’s such a saint in this community, to use that term loosely. He’s very well known, but he’s also incredibly humble.”
Other faces in the exhibit include the older — 36-year mayor Harold Rainwater, 100-year-old Minnie Olson, retired potter Rudy Medlock — as well as a face of Barker’s newer generation — Confrontation Point Ministries’ Andy Bathje. Each image has just a title, letting those who are familiar with the scene retrieve their own memories and causing those who aren’t to ask questions.
“That’s Rudy Medlock, and if they know Rudy Medlock, they know where that picture was taken and what that house means to him and all of that,” Barker said. “And if they don’t know that, they’re going to wonder, and it will kind of cause them to engage the image a little bit.”
Some photographs don’t include people as subjects, merely leaving the scene of a snowy playground or a downtown back door for the viewer to take in. A few point to drastic change in the city, with one showing the recent road closure for the streetscape project and another panorama of the pastoral landscape interrupted by new housing for the seminary.
Barker used a film camera and gelatin-silver printing for the photographs, going back to his “old-school” training.
“The black and white just takes all the colors out, so you see it from a different perspective, and the film kind of gives a different feel to it,” he said. “All the images have the black border around them, which kind of indicates that that was the way I saw it in the camera; that’s the actual place. I didn’t do any manipulation or cropping of any of these images. I was hoping that would lend a little bit more authenticity or honesty or believability, even on a subconscious level, to the images.”
The exhibit will be on display through Aug. 10, open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the photos are also available for viewing online at Barker’s website, www.kbarkerphoto.com. The project has just started for Barker, who is taking suggestions on other photos that should be included in a larger production.
“I want to keep collecting images of people and turn it into a book so that it’s in a format that people can spend time with looking at the individual images,” he said. “There are only 23 images here, but there could be more than that. It would be a pretty substantial project if I were to really carry it out.”
The goal of “TOWN” is to involve the city of Wilmore, Barker said — to get those with different perspectives of the same scenes to talk to each other.
“I’m asking more questions than anything. Everybody’s going to get something different based on their own histories and their own past, their own experience,” Barker said. “I’m hoping that people who do know the places and the people of these images will start to talk about that, and then we’ll all kind of learn a little bit from each other based on what we learn and see from these images.”