BERRY, Ky. (FOX 56) – When Mark Bradford leaves the tiny Berry post office each morning, he knows he’s in for a day filled with give and take.
He’ll give out letters and packages, and take a lot of pictures.
“You never know what you’re going to see,” he said.
Bradford has been delivering the mail for two decades, most of those years on the backroads of his native Harrison County. His daily route is 92 miles long, with 515 mailboxes.
A few years, Bradford began to lose enthusiasm for his job. He was going through a divorce and feeling depressed. You might say he was mailing it in.
Then, he recalled how much he enjoyed photography classes when he majored in art at Eastern Kentucky University. He addressed his boredom by snapping pictures with his iPhone, documenting things he saw on the mail route.
Now, he treats his route as a daily treasure hunt for great pictures.
“I take pictures of everyday occurrences, and everybody could do that if they’d just stop and say, ‘That’s a great picture,” Bradford said. “Just enjoy the world around you. That’s what I’m doing.”
Bradford said even though he takes the same route every day, he sees it differently at different times of the year. And he knows the roads and homes so well that he notices every little change, like when a tree falls, a fence gets painted, or a cow has a calf.
A few years ago, he started posting his pics on Instagram (@pappybradford).
“God blesses me with all this beauty and so I take pictures and I want to show everybody.”
That led to something he never dreamed would happen.
Executives at the non-profit Boyd’s Station Project for photojournalism students started following his site and found his pictures fit their mission of documenting rural life in Harrison County. Soon, founder Jack Gruber, who is a photographer for USA Today, had Bradford signed, sealed, and delivered as an exhibitor at the Boyd’s Station Art Gallery in Cynthiana.
“I’ve got Charlie Brown luck, so I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t know if it was going to happen or if they’d pull the football away from me,” Bradford laughed.
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It happened. The exhibit, called Rural Route Collection, is getting the stamp of approval from visitors. Some of the photos will also be displayed in a gallery in New York City. The curators had a major job sorting through his Bradford’s bundles of images. He said he has about 6,000 pictures stored on his phone.
“Luckily, we have all the photographers and editors we have,” said Maggie Heltzel, Boyd Station’s artistic programs director. “It was a blast to pick them and to curate a show like this.”
Heltzel said she believes people who see the exhibit love the familiarity of it.
Bradford has come to realize he is packaging a record of rural life. So, when it comes to framing and composition, he’ll go the extra mile, often returning to his route after work “to chase sunsets.”
“I’ve taken pictures now of barns that aren’t there anymore. They’ve fallen down. It’s documenting my route and the changes of life, really,” he said.
Mark Bradford’s first-class look at life is a lesson for all of us to stop and smell the roses … or at least take their picture. Even familiar journeys can lead to surprise destinations.
“I’ve had quite a few people say, ‘I went down (to Cynthiana) to see your show. I love it.'”
The exhibit will be on display through June 19, 2022. The gallery is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.