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.
"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.
Grout then went on to live in Ghana, West Africa, in 2002, with an extended family of cocoa farmers to create his latest book, "Harvest of Hope," a portrait of those who toil to bring us chocolate.
Evolving creative process
Grout, an avid gardener, is constantly searching for new ways to tell a story. Over the past four decades he has explored drawing, blacksmithing, woodworking, papermaking and new photographic processes.
In a May 21, 1995, article in the Baltimore Sun, he credited his father, Gerald C. Grout, for his interest in art and photography.
"He's the one who really got me into photography. He was a physician and a fine photographer. He had his own darkroom, and I used to watch him," Grout told Sun writer, Ellie Baublitz.
At the time, the article in 1995 described Grout's show at the Carroll County Arts Center, also a retrospective, "Jubilee: A Photographic Retrospective."
"Like his father, Mr. Grout has a studio and darkroom in his Westminster home, where he develops prints, standard photos as well as what he calls 'photoglyphs' and an even newer image using handmade paper," wrote Baublitz in 1995.
The photoglyphs are a relatively new method of developing prints that Mr. Grout discovered while experimenting with chemicals," Baublitz wrote.
Former Carroll County Commissioner and fellow Vietnam veteran, Dean Minnich, called Grout a, "Good picture shooter and a colleague in journalism. … (We worked together) starting in the Navy and then at the Hanover Evening Sun. I have three or four walls covered with his work in my home."
Sherri Hosfeld Joseph, owner of Birdie's and an artist and photographer herself, said, "Phil Grout is one of the greatest photojournalists of his generation. We are truly blessed as a community that he has chosen our stories to document. His work will leave you awe struck."
After his work in Africa, Phil returned to his first love, photojournalism, and newspapers in 2006, freelancing for The Carroll Eagle, The Catonsville Times, the Howard County Times, the Towson Times and other Patuxent Publishing newspapers. His photo illustrations regularly appear in Carroll Magazine as well.
Grout's photography and reporting have been awarded by the Associated Press, Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association as well as various arts organizations.
"Child of the Universe," a collection of 40 black and white images opens Friday, May 4, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Off Track Art, an artists' collective and gallery in the historic Liberty Building at 11 Liberty St. — next to the railroad tracks off the Sentinel parking lot at the corner of West Main St. and Liberty Street (Route 27) in historic downtown Westminster. The exhibition runs through June.