At first glance, the Metro Campus of George Mason University in Arlington doesn't look much like a campus. In fact, it looks a lot like an old department store, which is exactly what it once was.

But appearances can be deceiving. The old shell has been transformed into a bustling professional center, and what was once the children's shoe department is now a spacious art gallery.

Appropriately, the current show there, "Northern Virginia Photography Show 1983," is a tribute to change and innovation, much like that that transformed the building itself.

The show consists of 92 photographs by 59 artists, selected from almost 400 entries submitted by area photographers. As you would expect from such a broad selection, the exhibit is varied. More important, however, the show also is a legitimate success.

The subjects are mundane enough: They include street corners, fall landscapes, children and laundry, to name a few. But the photos capture the familiarity and put it in a new perspective. For instance, several ordinary street scenes, "Downtown," "Georgetown" and "Winter," taken by Ralph Jones at night, become fantasy landscapes with their rich color and and soft lines.

The award for color went to Marianne Keefer for her three prints "Mr. Aaron Hirsch," "Mrs. Rhoda Rosen" and "Mr. Seymour Goldstein." Her prints reminded me of the work of realist painter Richard Estes.

There were many impressive black and white photographs. Of particular interest was an untitled print of a woman on the beach by Paula Endo that somehow gave the illusion of being three-dimensional. Another fine piece was Cassie Schwartz's "Grandma's Manicure."

The large gallery space provides ample viewing area, perfect for appreciating the fine details of such a large exhibit.

The show will continue through April 28. Metro Gallery, George Mason University Metro Campus Professional Center, 3401 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington. The gallery is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 558-2746. Other Events:

"Mother and Child: Paintings by Gary Melchers," Saturday through May 15. Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg. Contact Paulette Watson, (703) 899-4083.

"Garden Landscapes," by Carrita Smith, May 1 through June 10. Gallery 4, 115 S. Columbus St., Alexandria. For more information, call 548-4600.

Watercolors by W. Leroy Lawson, through April 30. Arlington County Library Meeting Room, 1015 Quincy St., Arlington.