If you’re on Facebook, there’s a good chance you have seen a local page called The Barn Hunter. Now meet the man behind the camera lens, Cal Avery.
We’ve all heard the saying “a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work.” For Cal Avery, the worst thing to come out of a day where he finds little to capture on his camera is still “a nice relaxing ride in the country.”
Avery said he never thought that much about photography until 2010 when he and his wife, Marisue, took a month-long road trip to the Oregon coast for their 30th anniversary. He credits his son, Will, for encouraging him to get a better camera to capture the sights they would be seeing. “He took me to Best Buy and I bought my first DSLR camera. It was a Canon Rebel XSi. After seeing our beautiful country from coast to coast and photographing the beautiful sights, I was definitely bitten by the photography bug,” said Avery.
A retired Language Arts, Math, and Georgia History teacher from Swainsboro Middle School, he created The Barn Hunter page in 2014 and has since joined about twenty farm and rural-related photography groups on Facebook. “One thing I’ve found to be true of the vast majority of photographers on Facebook is they don’t mind answering questions and helping others learn,” he said. Avery chose barns because he felt he needed to focus on one subject. He also admired the photography of Gary McDaniel of Alabama. “We have never met but we consider each other good friends,” said Avery. “He was an exceptional barn photographer.” (Due to health reasons, McDaniel is no longer doing photography.) Avery said it was McDaniel who inspired him to focus on barns.
At first, said Avery, he thought he had to travel outside Emanuel County to find barns to photograph. However, it wasn’t long before he realized there were several barns still standing in this area. “It wasn’t until I started looking for barns that I saw them,” he said. For example, he said, “the Cowart farm just outside of Twin City is a favorite place of mine to photograph.” Avery added, “Old Reidsville Road at the Jake Edenfield place always makes for a nice road shot; and the Clifton place on Lambs Bridge Road makes for some awesome photography, especially in the fall when you can catch the reflection of the the colorful trees on the pond.”
One of the unexpected joys of being a photographer with a Facebook page is receiving inspiring messages from people who enjoy the images. Avery said it always moves him to read these heartfelt comments on his page. Avery recalls one commenter told him, “Mr. Cal, I just want to let you know that I am trying to limit my exposure on social media, but when I do get on I can literally feel my breathing slow and a peace come over me when I look at your photographs”; and a woman once complimented his image of a rocking chair on a porch, writing “I can see my grandmother sitting in that chair with my cousins and me playing and laughing around her.” Avery said, “Something like that makes every mile I’ve driven and every gallon of gas I’ve burned worthwhile.” Barns are not the only subjects he captures on camera, though. Avery has numerous shots of flowers, waterfalls, and mountain streams as well.
A typical day of photography for Avery begins before daylight and often ends after dark. “One thing I look for as I’m looking down a side road or across a field is a clump of large trees, often pecan or oaks. Sometimes this is an indication of an old home-place and I find some old structures in a place like that,” he muses. On his travels outside Georgia, he is accompanied by Marisue, who often indulges his habit of taking detours. “I remember one time a few years ago returning from the Smokies, we took a different route home than usual in hopes of finding some barns,” he said. “Marisue said that was fine, but every time I stopped it would cost me a dollar and every time I turned around it would cost two dollars. I can’t remember how much I owed her when we got home, but I do know it wasn’t a cheap trip.”
All those trips, rides, and detours on side roads have led to his Barn Hunter page being followed by almost 12,000 people in 20 countries. However, he is especially proud of how his pictures of the local area have turned out. “The beauty of Emanuel County gets a lot of attention,” he said. Avery also features the popular “Rusty Monday” series, which he said was inspired by photography groups that focus on rust. “I decided to feature ‘rust only’ photos on Mondays because that is the day people dread most after a nice weekend,” he said. “Our bodies aren’t ready to get moving and we’re dreading the start of another work week. Hence, Rusty Monday!”
Avery has these goals for his photography: to have a record of old farm structures that won’t be here forever; to bring back fond memories of the past; and to encourage others, whether they have a camera or not. But perhaps the goal that gives him the most pleasure is when he gets “to ride the back roads and see what is around the next curve . . . and over the next hill.”