Working at a small post office in Berry, Kentucky, postman Mark “Pappy” Bradford, 51, interacts with more dogs than people, feeding them Hardee’s breakfast sandwiches, while filling their owner’s mailboxes with the latest cable TV deals.
The monotony of a rural postal route is the kind of work where you learn a lot about yourself since you are often your only companion.
All that time alone, for some, can give birth to a source of creativity. The end Jean Prine, fresh out of the US Army, wrote the songs for his brilliant 1971 self-titled album while delivering mail along the blue highways near his home in Maywood, Illinois. Songs like “Heaven,” “Pierre-Sam” and “Your flag sticker will no longer get you to heaven.”
Bradford has turned his alone time on his rural Kentucky road into a creative outlet for photography. The budding artist has spent the past few years snapping photos along his 92-mile course.
“I started with the post office 20 years ago and have loved it since day one. I see the same thing every day. People say, ‘Well, that’s boring’, but every day something is different,” he said.
“It’s great to work in a small town like Berry. I was raised on a farm and I can smell the plowed land. It’s one of my favorite smells.
Bradford received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Eastern Kentucky University. “I took a bit of everything from sculpture, painting, drawing, metalwork and photography because I love all types of art,” he told the Courier Journal. .
But art doesn’t always pay the bills, and Bradford needed a real job with a consistent paycheck.
“There weren’t too many kings and queens who wanted me to be their court artist. I thought about teaching, but I’m one of those people who hates standing in front of a group and talking,” he said.
Being a postman “has always been in my head. It’s a perfect job for me, I think.
The art took a back seat until a changing relationship slowly brought it back into her life. His 17-year marriage having failed, to avoid depression, he decided to only do things that made him happy.
“I loved seeing the beauty around me, so I would go out after work and chase sunsets. I would find a different place and take pictures of sunsets, animals, anything to get to me. happy,” he said.
The change of seasons along his route also caught his eye and is reflected in his work. Often he photographed the subtle things along his route that only he would notice, bending his 2003 Honda Element through the Snake Licks and Crooked Creeks of God’s Country.
This red barn along Keith Lane suddenly looked stunning in a blanket of snow and made him stop, point his iPhone 7 out the window and capture the image.
One of his favorite photo spots on his route is Grover Criswell Road near Sunrise, Kentucky.
“There’s a tree on a hill that I photograph at least 20 times a year,” Bradford said. “I photograph it every season, from both sides.”
Bradford said it’s the same place where he also photographs a lot of wildlife.
“All my photos that have peacocks in it, that’s the road, and there’s also a lot of horses,” he said, adding, “it’s an interesting road and it’s maybe two miles , something like that.”
For a long time, Bradford’s art was shot primarily for himself, and not seen by others, until Jack Gruber, USA Today photographer and founder of the Boyd Station Project in Harrison County, discovered Bradford’s work. Gruber realized that many photos of Bradford had never been seen, let alone downloaded from his phone.
“I’m a tech dinosaur. I’m not very good with computers or anything like that,” Bradford said.
The nonprofit Boyd’s Station Project was established in 2018 to document Harrison County for years with photojournalism students.
Gruber, a county native, says, “Our main goal is to mentor and educate the next generation of photojournalists, learning how to document a county like they did in the days of the Farm Security Administration,” during the Great Depression.
Now, Bradford’s photos are about to be seen for the first time with exhibitions of his work at Boyd’s Station Gallery in Cynthiana and Ki Smith Gallery in SoHo, New York.
“I’m a little scared, I guess,” he said of having his art featured in two different exhibitions. “I’ve never really done anything like this. I mean I’m excited, it’s a great opportunity and I’m happy and privileged. I just hope it works out.”
Gruber said the nonprofit found Bradford “when he started following Boyd’s Station on Instagram. Suddenly there was just this amazing photographer with an Instagram feed in Harrison County that we knew nothing about. .
“He’s just not the guy you think of, we’re so narrow-minded when we look at the things people do, and we’re like ‘oh, a postman, he just drives all day, puts the mail in a slot machine and that’s about it”, when in fact this guy is a very good photographer.
Gruber said it’s amazing that Bradford does something Boyd Station tries to do every day — documenting Harrison County.
“He does everything we teach students to do. To document where they live and be a part of it. To look at where you live through everyday events, scenes and sites, but he was doing it to fill his own need to be creative,” he added.
For Bradford, it’s not about the new acclaim or recognition. It’s about documenting your own life.
“When I think of photos, it’s not to show people what I can do, it’s more to see where I can live my life and enjoy my work. That’s what my photography is. C that’s what I do when I take pictures, just share the joy I feel,” he said. “I just like to take pictures of things that I like to see. I think it’s in my blood.
Contact photographer Pat McDonogh at [email protected]
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
WHAT: The Rural Route Collection is an extensive body of photography by local Harrison County, Kentucky postman and photographer Mark Bradford. It breaks up the monotony of a daily mail route by capturing encounters along Harrison County’s back roads and farm lanes. For 20 years, Bradford worked for the Berry Post Office where he served his community as a vital member of the distribution chain and as a visual documentarian. What started as an artist’s medicine has become a living document of over 6,000 images.
OR: Boyd’s Station Gallery, 203 E. Pike St., Cynthiana, Kentucky
WHEN: from May 13 to June 19. Gallery hours are Friday 4-8 p.m., Saturday 12-6 p.m., and Sunday 12-4 p.m.
COST: Boyd’s Station Gallery is free and open to the public.
MORE INFORMATION: Follow Pappy Bradford on Instagram at; @pappybradford. To learn more about the exhibition and the non-profit Boyd’s Station Gallery, visit boydsstation.org/boydsstationgallery.