Artist Q&A with Jerry Park

"Blount Co, Cades Cove Cutover, Hyatt Lane" ©Jerry Park

"Blount Co, Cades Cove Cutover, Hyatt Lane" ©Jerry Park

In your artist statement you mentioned that you captured all the images for Slow Roads Tennessee using a Holga camera. Can you explain a little bit what that was like and the benefits and/or limitations of choosing this type of camera? 

Shooting with a Holga is an experiment in experimentation. You only have a wisp of an idea of what you’re getting on that 2-inch square of color film. You learn some of its quirks over time (it’s plastic, after all), but that hardly removes the serendipitousness of the effort. The magic comes when you take the developed film home from the camera store, scan it (this is where it goes from old school to new school - getting digitized) load it on the computer, and pull that first image up on the screen. It’s like Christmas morning as a kid. Sometimes you don’t get what you want, but most of the time, it’s a big “ah, yes…”. I chose the Holga just because of that - it’s not perfect. It’s not sharp. You can’t look at the back of your camera and keep re-shooting until you have a nice image. In other words, the experience mimics that of hopeful shooters 50 or 100 years ago, and since the whole point of Slow Roads was to show those scenes and people out there in the country that haven’t really changed much during that period, then the Holga was the best way to hit that mark.

Once you have taken the image, what is your process afterwards in terms of developing and printing, etc? In other words, what are your next steps in creating the completed piece?

Even with film, the image still winds up digitized and then your computer becomes The Tool. Once I open it in Photoshop, the fun begins. The editing can be very simple (clean up spots in the sky, for example) if the desired look of the print is fairly straight up, or it can literally take days of coming back again and again to tweak this, or change that, or add this filter, etc. Printing is the final major step in achieving a satisfying result. For me, control is important and that’s why I do all my own printing up to the max paper size my Epson printer can handle, which is 17” x 22”. I’ve calibrated the printer to deliver a print that is almost precisely what I’m looking at on the screen. And talk about a Christmas morning adrenaline pop! When the print has creeped about half the way out of the printer and you can tell what you’re getting ready to hold up to the light and it’s what you really wanted….oh, yeah.

How many estimated miles did you end up driving to complete this collection?

Well, if you like straight forward answers, here’s one - there was no estimating involved. I’m too anal for that, so I recorded the mileage on each leg of the journey. When I pulled into the garage on that final day and added the mileage of the last loop to the rest, the total was 10,831 miles. But, it didn’t seem like it. I was ready for more. Still am.

Do you have a favorite image? And/or do you have a favorite memory from driving around?

"Humphreys Co, Junkyard Bookmobile, Hwy 13" ©Jerry Park

"Humphreys Co, Junkyard Bookmobile, Hwy 13" ©Jerry Park

You know, my favorite photograph out of 2 years and 500 or so clicks of the shutter (from which we selected one from each of the 95 counties for the book) turned out to be from the very first place I stopped. What are the odds of that? I turned south off I-40 onto TN 13 in Humphreys County, and in no more than 3 or 4 miles, spied an assemblage of old trucks and cars splayed out over hills and up into some thick woods. Pulled up (or drug up) next to the road was an old Chevy station wagon with a crudely lettered sign that warned “if you can read this, you’re on camera. P.S. I shoot to kill”. Well, what else is there to do for a photographer than to pull over, grab your camera and sneak up on that scene. About the time I got close enough to raise the Holga up to my eye, I hear this booming voice from the woods, “Hey! What’re you doing?” Crap! Maybe he meant it! Duck? Run? Smile big and look as harmless as possible? I chose the latter and it turned out to be a wonderful visit with Nelson Bandy (as he put it, “Mo without the Dough”) who had been hit over and over during long dark nights by parts thieves who’d been helping themselves to Nelson’s stock, hence the bravado sign. After a lengthy conversation that I was ready to wrap up long before Mr. Bandy was, a horn honked from up in the forest. “Oops, that’s my daddy. I gotta go take him to the doctor!” Well, he must deal with some attention deficit stuff, ‘cause back to talking he went. That happened two more times before he said that he’d better get on up there, and, so, off he went, shouting over his shoulder an invitation to wander around, take my time, take as many photos as I wanted. Just no parts, please. Moments later, I had my favorite photograph. It seemed only appropriate to title it “Junkyard Bookmobile”.

You retired back in 2007, so what made you pursue photography and take all of this on?

I had begun to photograph in the early 2000’s when Canon came out with it’s 10D model. 6.3 whole megapixels! I thought that was a miracle never to be topped. Now my iPhone is that good. Photography was a latent first love, going all the way back to checking our mail box as a kid to see if Life or Look or Nat Geo had come that day. Something about a photograph that takes me here and there and back again. And it was something I felt like was accessible to me. Get a camera, go find something you like, point the box, press the button, and that’s all there was to it. Right? No? Yeah, no. That’s what I found out. And that’s what will forever draw me in deeper and deeper. It never gets old. I’ll never get it all done. Sounds perfect for “retirement”, right?

So, you’ve documented Workspaces, Artist Spaces, and now Slow Roads Tennessee… what’s next?

I started two new journeys this year. One is to photograph life along that most majestic and ponderous of waterways, the Mississippi River. Headwaters to the Gulf, both the eastern and western sides, weaving my way through that maze of county and state roads collectively referred to as the Great River Road. I’ve made three multi-day sojourns thus far. Talk about interesting people….It’s every bit as mesmerizing and addictive as Slow Roads. The middle third of our country and, for that matter, all the way to the Pacific was settled because of this river, its conveniences, it’s lure, it’s deadly dangers. Some of it is still wild. All of it is storied. The other series is of those wonderful old conveyances of families and friends looking to strike that balance between living in nature and holding on to a comfy place out of the weather to lie down on at night. Yep, we’re talking pull-behind campers, or trailers. All shapes and sizes, colors and designs. I have no interest in photographing the new ones. That’s what a brochure or website is for. No, it’s those mid- and late-life stages that have me pulling the car over and skulking past “no trespassing” signs to honor these beauties with a pic or two.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Get out and shoot. Just go shoot. When you can’t think of anything to shoot, go shoot it anyway. It’ll figure itself out.

Meet Jerry Park and hear more stories from Slow Roads Tennessee during Collector's Art Night, November 20, 2015 from 5:30-8:00 on 5th Avenue of the Arts.  Click here to learn more and RSVP. 

View more of Jerry's work here.