Hunter Coleman likes to quote St. Francis who once said, “Preach often and use words as necessary.” Coleman, who retired as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Highlands in 2007, once preached some of the most meaningful sermons in the area, according to his former parishioners. Today, he still preaches beautiful sermons, but without words, using his camera.
Coleman’s career as pastor with a camera began to take shape in 2000, seven years before he retired.
“My wife Trudie, who could always see ahead better than I could, said to me one day, ‘Hunter, you need a hobby. The church has been your entire life. You need to have something to do when you retire.’”
Shortly after that conversation, Cynthia Strain, Highlands photographer and owner of the Mill Creek Gallery, invited Coleman to go on a photo shoot with her. Strain, a member of Coleman’s church, loaned him a camera, and off they went to Horse Cove.
Coleman says, “I saw those beautiful rays, shining through the hemlocks and I was smitten. I began to see the world in a new way … the beauty of the earth, the beauty of life, the beauty all around us. The camera has its own eye.”
Coleman knew a little about the basics— aperture settings, focal length, shutter speed, etc. He read “everything, from Ansel Adams books to photography magazines.”
He received a “very generous honorarium” from a wedding he conducted and bought a Cannon Rebel, 35-mm camera. “I still have it,” he says. “And I started shooting everything.
“People don’t always see the wonders of God’s world. My grandchildren have taught me how to look. ‘Look Papa,’ they’ll say. When you know how to look, you begin to see the wonderful colors. I’m reminded of the song children sing in Sunday School—Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. You know, people are God’s rainbow.”
Coleman used a tripod, held together with duct tape. A few years later, he purchased a second camera, a Cannon EOS3, which he says is an entry level professional 35-mm model.
He’s been through several phases in his photography career. There was the water phase, for example. “I love what water does to light,” he says.
He has specialized in multiple exposures. He’s also used very slow shutter speeds on moving objects where the camera speed and the speed of one part of the moving object are identical, bringing that part into clear focus. The other parts of the object would be what Coleman calls “slurred.” A good example is a shot Coleman took of a dancing Cherokee Indian. The Indian’s face is in focus; his costume is blurred.
Some of his shots have come somewhat spontaneously because he knows how to “look,” like the triple exposure of road signs that caught his attention as he drove from Athens, Ga., to Highlands one day. Others have required careful planning and a great deal of patience. To get the dancing Cherokee shot just right, Coleman took up six rolls of film and was rewarded with one picture.
When there was a Fireside Restaurant in Highlands, many of Coleman’s pictures were on display and available for purchase. When the restaurant closed, he displayed pictures at Summit One Gallery. After that shop relocated, he no longer displayed his pictures. He will have a booth at the Highlands Art League’s Summer Show, July 15-16, at the Highlands Recreation Center.
As masterful as Coleman is with his camera, he hasn’t moved into the latest technology. He doesn’t own a digital camera, and he doesn’t use Photoshop or some other editing software.
However, he says, “I’ve got to get one of those digital cameras. Imagine knowing whether you got a good shot as soon as you take it. Wow!”