As a child, Jillisa Milner could frequently be found with a disposable camera in hand. She simply loved capturing beautiful moments with friends and family.
“I would take snapshots of my friends and different things in my life back then,” she recalled. “But I didn’t start doing photography as an art form until 2010.”
A lot of transformational things happened for Milner then. Her husband was sent to work in Iraq and rather than spend time home alone, stateside, she decided to use the opportunity to go see the world.
“I went to live in Europe for six months. I spent three months in Ireland and three months France. I didn’t know a soul and my husband was in a war zone ... so it was just me and my camera really exploring the places I was staying,” she said.
Through documenting her experiences overseas, Milner also re-ignited her long-held love of photography. Eventually, she moved to St. Simons Island where she really threw herself into learning all she could about the medium.
“I found the (Coastal Photographers) Guild on Facebook, I think, so I started attending meetings. It was a great way to meet locals since I was new to the area. Of course, it is also a great way to connect with other photographers and learn more,” she said.
Today, Milner loves shooting the local landscapes, as well as travel photography. She has learned much over the past few years, so much so that she has become confident sharing her work via the Coastal Photographer’s Guild’s annual Big Photo Show.
The photography contest and exhibit will return next week with a reception kicking off at 5 p.m., July 5, at Glynn Visual Arts, 106 Island Drive, St. Simons Island. Members’ work will be displayed and top prizes awarded for those judged best in a number of categories including nature, people, landscape and an open category. Those attending the opening can also vote on a people’s choice award.
The show will be open throughout the month with a sister exhibit, showcasing previous winners, at the St. Simons Island Welcome Center, 529 Beachview Drive. Those images were gathered from award-winning entries in previous guild shows.
For Milner and the other members, it’s less about walking away with a ribbon and more about the chance to share their passion and their work.
“My first time entering the show was in 2016 and it was also the first time I professionally printed my work and had it framed. It really is one of my favorite parts of the show ... there is something really special about it and having that tangible form. It’s very different from seeing it on a screen,” she said.
“The show makes you want to put it out there. I got through phases where I hate everything I’ve ever created ... but you get over it. I’ve actually found that the photos I really love and feel passionate about are well received by other people.”
Like Milner, Duke Smith has found fulfillment sharing his work through the guild and its annual photo show. He picked up a camera seriously after snapping pictures while enjoying another beloved hobby — fly fishing.
“It was in 2008. I was in Alaska with (a friend) who is also from here ... he was walking around with this big camera strapped around his neck. I had a little pocket camera and at the end of the week ... his pictures were a lot better than mine,” Smith recalled with a laugh.
He decided to up his game by purchasing a better camera and joining the guild with his friend. Since, he has learned many new skills from both professional presentations and networking with other members.
“It’s really about learning and sharing. There is a great community and it’s very supportive,” he said. “We’re lucky to have so many people come and share their talents and time to teach us.”
Like Milner and the other exhibitors, he will be sharing some of his pieces at the upcoming show, which he hopes will be embraced by the community. Smith feels that there is sure to be something for everyone.
“I think no matter who you are you, if you enjoy something in life, it will be represented at the show ... whether it’s landscape, wildlife or nature, not matter who you are, there will be something there for you,” he said.
Elma Andrews couldn’t agree more. The guild president said this year’s show will be significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its special anniversary.
“This is our 10th anniversary and it’s a real milestone. The guild started off with four members and now we have more than 60. We have seen a lot of new technology over the years, especially drone photography recently,” Andrews said.
From the latest innovations in the craft to tried-and-true methods, she said the show will present the Isles through the lens of those who know it best. Andrews said it also offers an unique perspective, one that visitors and even locals don’t always have the chance to see.
“We live in such a beautiful area and a lot of the visitors can’t be here for all seasons like our photographers can ... it is just a different perspective,” she said.
“We encourage everyone to participate in the show ... people will often say ‘my stuff isn’t good enough’ and that’s not true, of course, and it’s not the point,” she said. “It’s about sharing our work with other people.”