Bonnie Ray Chaney has built a mountain of memories. All of those were collected through the lens of her camera.

“It’s a hobby that can be all-consuming,” she said with a laugh.

“In the pictures, you can find a good memory and hold onto it forever, especially pictures of your family. I look back on the photos I’ve taken and remember all of those wonderful memories. That’s why I love to take them.”

Chaney’s interest in photography began many years ago.

It was more recent, however, that she felt confident enough to join the ranks of the Coastal Photographers’ Guild.

“I first started taking classes at Glynn Visual Arts, which is a great place for all types of art. After I retired, I started taking acrylic painting classes there too,” she said.

“But with photography, I started on the very bottom floor. I didn’t know anything about it. I just started classes, then decided to put my foot in the water with the guild. I think a lot of people can be intimidated because there are so many great photographers here.”

What Chaney discovered was a group of passionate enthusiasts who are eager to support one another’s work. That helped her feel more comfortable exploring the medium and opening herself up to constructive criticism.

“It really helps you learn and grow. It helps people feel more confident about themselves,” she said.

In addition to monthly meetings which include presentations and “homework” assignments, the group also hosts its annual Big Photo Show, a gallery exhibition and contest where members are free to enter a variety of categories. There’s also different divisions based on experience.

“I entered into the amateur (division) and last year, I didn’t win but I got runner-up. It was a huge boost to my confidence ... just to be a part of that scene and to have my photos up there on that wall,” she said.

And she’s giving it another shot this year. The 14th annual Big Photo Show will open with a reception at 5 p.m. July 1 at SoGlo Gallery, 1413 Newcastle St., Brunswick, during the monthly First Friday downtown block party.

The public is invited to cast ballots for their favorite photos in both the aspiring and experienced divisions. Votes will be accepted through July 20 at the gallery. Visitors are only allowed one ballot in each category.

The images will be on display throughout the month. Judges with backgrounds in professional photography will also dole out prizes. An awards ceremony will be held July 21.

In addition to the Big Photo Show, there will be a sister exhibition — the Big Photo Show, Too!, a non-juried show, will be exhibited at Creative Frameworks, 1302 Gloucester St., Brunswick. It will be available for viewing through Aug. 5.

The Best of the Best Photo Show, featuring the best in show from years past, will be displayed at the Golden Isles Welcome Center, 529 Beachview Drive, St. Simons Island. It will be open through July 29.

For her part, Chaney is entering three animals this year, stepping away from her typical street photography themes.

“A duck, an alligator and a bird,” she listed. “(The show) is definitely an incentive to get out there and take more photos. You can’t learn to swim if you don’t get out there.”

Theresa Kapella agrees. Formerly in law enforcement, she has dabbled in photography throughout her life.

“It started in high school when I was the editor of my yearbook,” Kapella said.

“I always liked taking pictures and got a camera for Christmas. My dad was a semi-professional photographer too so I was kind of following in his footsteps.”

Kapella’s career eventually led to her using photography in her work for customs and border patrol. But once she retired, she really re-focused.

“I wasn’t serious about it at first, but I joined this group about a year ago. I entered the Big Photo Show’s aspiring category and won first place for landscape and second place for nature, so this year I can’t do aspiring I guess,” she said with a laugh.

“But it’s just really encouraging. Everyone in the group is so nice and they always are willing to help if you have questions.”

Kapella hopes that the community will support their efforts and their art. Plus, gallery-goers will get to take in some pretty stellar work. There will be landscapes, nature shots, black and white images as well as an “open” category where members are encouraged to show off their artistic post-processing skills.

“... it’s just great to increase your awareness of art in the area. All of these were taken by local photographers who either live here full time or who come down in the winter months,” Kapella said.

Ginny Worthington, president of the guild, feels the same way. Supporting the Big Photo Show helps buoy the artists and boosts the whole of the area’s art scene.

“It’s so important to support our local art community. In addition to personal enrichment, art provides intellectual stimulation, brings people together and has a positive economic impact within the community on several levels,” Worthington said.

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