Photographer Cal Avery spent 21 years in the classroom before he hit the road. Even though he currently works part-time delivering for ShopRite Pharmacy, most of his traveling is for enjoyment and in search of old structures that, were it not for his trusty Canon Rebel T8I with a Tamron 18-400x lens, might be forgotten.
Cal started taking photos in 2010 when he and his wife, Marisue, took a trip to Oregon. Before they left, his son, Will, told him ‘Daddy, if you’re going to drive across the country, you need something better than a click and shoot camera. You need to get you a DSL and start learning how to use it.” So Cal did. His first camera was a DSL Canon Rebel SXI. Ask him why and he’ll tell you when he went to Best Buy it is what they had a “deal on” and if it had been flip-flopped, he would be a Nikon man. It’s that simple.
Between 2010 and 2013, Cal wasn’t “real heavy” into taking photos, but still took a fair amount. When he retired in 2013 he returned to the roads, but this time, local ones. “It’s a fun thing to just get out and see what you can find.” He’s lived in Emanuel County since he was in third grade in 1959 and to this day, he claims, “I still find roads I’ve never been on.” Even though Cal is partial to photographing the mountains in Northeast Georgia, Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, he claims right here in Emanuel County - Lambs Bridge Road, Canoochee Road, McLeod’s Bridge Road (to name three of many) contain “a different type of beauty, but it’s beauty, nonetheless.” He’ll ride the local roads often and take pictures of the same barns, the same fields, the same old homes, but notices “every time I take a picture, it’s always a different picture, the lighting is different, the clouds are different,” and he has the pictures to prove it. Right now his laptop contains some 40,000 images from the last ten years, a majority of these are rural scenes, country homes, barns and rusted out vehicles, tractors, “most anything country.”
After Cal collected a fair number of photos he told Marisue he needed to focus on something to claim his “niche” in the internet world. He has a Facebook friend named Gary McDaniel whose work inspired Cal to focus on barns and gave him the idea to title his Facebook page “The Barn Hunter”. From the start, he posted nothing but barns. Then as more and more people started liking his page and sharing his page, he’s currently up to 12,000 likes and 13,000 followers, he started to diversify to include other country scenes. He even posted some city scenes claiming, “Our water fountain in Swainsboro is one of the most photogenic spots in the county if you catch it at the right time of day.”
Marisue has been known to dabble in photography too and her Facebook page “The Barn Hunter’s Wife” contains up-close images of flowers and water lilies in bloom and sunflowers towering above the lens in stark contrast to a bright blue sky. A shot or two capture her husband in his Barn Hunter’s Indiana Jones hat behind the sunflowers or in front of a rusted out truck. She captures the up close, while he captures images a bit further off, but she finds riding around boring and often opts out. Cal understands, “When I go on a ride, I’ll leave at daylight or a little before and it will be close to sunset before I get back. I’m gone all day long.” He still appreciates that his wife sends him off with her blessing and welcomes him home with open arms. “I don’t know that it’s so much that she wants me to follow my passion or if she just wants me out of her hair,” he admits, but chooses to believe it ’s because she supports his passion.
The road isn’t a lonely place for Cal even when he rides it alone. “I never have a bad day when I go out. Some days I find a lot of stuff to photograph, I meet some people I’ve never met before, and have some good conversations. I’ve got several friends now I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t doing this. Some days I go out and I hardly find anything to photograph but the worst thing that happens is I’ve had a nice relaxing drive in the country.”
He doesn’t always drive alone. Cal meets up with three to four other Georgia Barn Hunters, “one guy lives up in Gainesville, one in Winder and one in Cumming and we have somewhat of a new member from Claxton.” They all met on Facebook. “We try to meet once or twice a year somewhere in the state to ride through places we’ve never been. The photographic opportunities are great, but the best part is riding around together.” Cal always does the driving while they share stories and cut up and “tell lies on each other and just have a big time.”
Cal knows many people are hesitant of using or even being on social media, but to him “Facebook is what you choose to make out of it. You can use it for good stuff or you can use it for bad stuff. I choose to use it for good stuff, and part of the good stuff is I’ve got many photographer friends now. If I’ve got a technical question I can go to any one of them and they are more than helpful.”
Even though Cal’s page and images have received lots of likes and compliments, he still can’t tell which will garner the most responses. “The photos I question the most on whether I should post them are the photos that get the most response. I look at a photo and it may take me two or three days to decide to post it because I don’t think it’s up to my standards and that is the photo that winds up getting a big response, which might speak to my taste of my work.” More than once he’s seen a picture get a lot of response, that is the one where he had no place to park, no shoulder on the road, so he just had to pull up, roll down his window down, shoot and be on his way. “I don’t take time to think about composition or nothing… because a quarter mile behind me, here's a car coming and I need to get out of his way.” It may come down sometimes, he says to that old saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” And sometimes he just gets lucky.
The Barn Hunter would like for people who visit his Facebook page to get away from the bombardment of all that's going on and “just relax, forget about the cares of the world for a little bit, come up on my virtual porch and sit down on the rocker and enjoy the view.”
If you’d like to sit for a spell, but stay away from social media, now is your chance to view The Barn Hunter’s exhibit of “Emanuel County and Beyond” live! The opening reception is September 15th, 5-7 p.m. at the Emanuel Arts Council located at 109 N. Green Street. The event is free and open to the public. Swainsboro Kiwanis will provide refreshments.
Here’s what local art aficionados have to say:
”With the current Cal Avery exhibit, we not only have an opportunity to honor an Emanuel county artist, we have the opportunity to view work that honors Emanuel County. Mr. Avery's images illustrate the poetic landscapes that we call home. From the weathered wood of rural barns to the mirror-like reflections of George L Smith State Park, Mr. Avery's photographs illuminate the beauty found within our county (and beyond). Let them remind us all of the grace we find in our surroundings here at home." - Desmal Purcell, gallery director, Emanuel Arts Council
"The Emanuel Arts Council is proud to be the first venue for Cal's exhibition," said Jacquie Brasher, executive director. "After admiring his photographs on Facebook for a few years, we hope the community will enjoy seeing it in person at The Kalmanson Gallery!"