“Giving Thanks” by Phil Grout (1971), a portrait of John and Irene Wolf saying grace in their humble Taneytown home. From "A Child of the Universe" collection by Phil Grout which opens Friday, May 4, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Off Track Art, 11 Liberty St., Westminster. (Photo by Phil Grout / May 3, 2012)

Award-winning Carroll County photojournalist, fine art photographer and author Phil Grout will appear for the opening of his latest exhibition Friday, May 4, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., at Off Track Art in Westminster.

The exhibit, "Child of the Universe," is a collection of 40 black and white images that come to life from Grout's 45 years of documenting life in Americas, Africa, Asia and India.

Grout is no stranger to Off Track Art, where he exhibited from January through June in 2011.

A previous retrospective show at Birdie's Cafe, 233 E. Main St., Westminster, ran in November and December 2010. That show, "44/40," spanned more than four decades of Grout's work, from Vietnam to Africa, Plains Georgia, to Carroll County.

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"I've never done a show like this," said Grout of the Off Track Art exhibit. "This show focuses upon our humanity and what binds us together. … It's 40, 4-by-6 inch framed black and white images of people, and runs the gamut of emotions," he said.

For example, in "Afua's Hands," Grout reminisces, "Her name was Afua Nyame. At 83 she was the oldest cocoa farmer in the village of Odaho, Ghana, West Africa. In "Harvest of Hope," a book by Grout for SERRV International, he wrote, "Hope carves trails in an old woman's hands then plows furrows up her arms, and all trails lead back home where food is never scarce and the medicine is always half full."

In another photograph, "Giving Thanks," Grout says, it "is a portrait I made in 1971 of John and Irene Wolf saying grace in their humble Taneytown home.

"John was a huckster who hauled livestock to the Woodsboro auction for over 50 years. He would return many times with box lots of 19th century tools.

"Over the years he built an extensive collection of Americana and hand-wrought farm implements and tools. The Wolfs helped shine the light on my path, which led me round the world in search of the threads which bind us together as human beings."

Along the trail of humanity and art

Since 1966, that path has lead Grout and his work throughout North, South and Central America, Asia and Africa gathering images for newspapers, magazines, wire services and book publishers.

According to his website, philgrout.com, and a series of e-mail interviews, Grout said he started to learn his craft as a photographer in 1966 working as a photojournalist for theU.S. Navycovering naval operations in Vietnam.

"But I quickly learned it wasn't the images of war I was hunting, but more the face of humanity as I roamed the back alleys of Saigon; Hong Kong; Sasebo, Japan and Olongopo, Philippines."

With pictures and words Grout, "became a gatherer of the threads which bind us together as human beings."

After the war, Grout came home and settled in Maryland with his wife, Mary Lou, and worked for nearly 10 years as a photographer, reporter and editor for the Hanover Evening Sun office in Westminster.

Since moving to Carroll, Grout has authored three acclaimed photo essay books. His work has been awarded by the Associated Press as well as various arts organizations. It has also been featured in art galleries throughout the United States.

According to Grout, "I fell in love with this land and its people who worked the land in my new rural home. That love pulled me away to Plains, Ga., in the late 70s to complete my first book as I lived in an abandoned sharecropper's home near President Jimmy Carter's farm, and learned firsthand the rigors of working the land and documenting the "tillers of the soil."

His first venture into the book world won him national acclaim, including recognition from Publisher's Weekly which called "A Spell in Plains" a "triumph."

In the 1980s Grout took his camera throughout the developing world in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and India documenting the work of various relief organizations.

A second book of photography, "Seeds of Hope," "grew from the splinters left in the wake of a hurricane which cut a path through Nicaragua in 1988," recalled Grout.