‘See what I see’ – Self-taught photographer has loyal local followingBluebird in Winter: This photo was 1 of 24 selected for inclusion in an exhibition by the Georgia Nature Photographers Association (GNPA) at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in winter 2021. The exhibition theme was simply “Winter.” Copyright © 2020–2022 by Rex D. Matthews Photography. All Rights Reserved.
Greater Decatur, GA — Rex Matthews is a self-proclaimed amateur photographer. He got the attention of many in the Decatur area during the pandemic when he began to post his photos of nature on social media. But his photography journey started well before 2020.
“I’ve always taken pictures, back to the film days – on family vacations,” Matthews said.
He bought his first digital camera over 20 years ago for a business trip to South Africa in 2000.
“Mostly what I was shooting in those days were tourist pocket point-and-shoot cameras. And I continued to do that for a while,” he added.
Come 2016, Matthews and his wife had plans to go to South Africa again. He still had his point-and-shoot camera, but he wanted something with higher quality – in between what he had and a full-frame DSLR. So, he went to a camera shop in metro Atlanta which has since closed, Showcase Cinema, for advice.
“[Showcase Cinema] heard me out and gave me some really good advice, steering me to what’s called a bridge camera,” Matthews said. “It looks like a normal DSLR-type camera, but it does not have an interchangeable lens.”
This bridge camera Matthews bought was a Panasonic Lumix, which has an “incredible zoom range,” at 25mm to 600mm. And it cost under $500 – the perfect handheld device for the safaris he’d planned for his return to South Africa.
“I was really happy with it, and that whetted my appetite,” Matthews added.
In 2018, Matthews retired from teaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and decided to get serious about his journey with photography. He signed up for a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. And he was inspired to keep on progressing.
“Most of the folks who were taking that class had a DSLR, and I learned a lot. Coming away from that experience, I really wanted to take the next step and go home into the DSLR world and get some better lenses. To see what a lot of my colleagues were able to do with the equipment they had really piqued my interest – stirred the fires.”
After speaking to some more people, he bought a Nikon D750, which “proved to be a terrific camera for me,” said Matthews.
Today, Matthews is using the Nikon D780, which combines some features of the D750 with Nikon’s mirrorless cameras. One of his favorites is live view technology, allowing him to refocus with a simple touch of the screen.
These days, he particularly enjoys photographing birds, and these improvements have served him well for his nature photography.
“I can just touch the screen and change the focus without losing the whole camera setup by swinging the lens around and refocusing,” Matthews said. “If I’ve got it framed well, I can smooth the focus point without reframing, which involves moving the camera – which the birds don’t like – so, that’s been terrific for me.
“I’ve been very happy with the work I’ve been doing. And more recently, I’ve gotten into doing some printing on occasion,” he added.
His photographs helped him cultivate a loyal local following, too.
“I started posting stuff on Facebook. I enjoy photography and people started responding. A lot of folks in the Medlock neighborhood now recognize me by sight. I’ll be walking around with a camera, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, camera guy! Flower guy!’
“I just walk around and see what’s in the neighborhood. I enjoy shooting and helping other folks see what I see through the camera,” Matthews said.
Decatur resident Michelle Hiskey first came across Matthews’ photography during the start of the pandemic. She’s been a follower of his work since.
“It was hard not to feel cut off from community during the pandemic, and the outdoors. [Matthews’] posting on Medlock Park Neighbors were particularly uplifting then. He wasn’t shutting down,” Hiskey said. “He was watching, documenting and sharing incredibly beautiful images when regular community life was shut down. His photos reminded me that nature persists, and so does art.
“To me, his photos say, ‘If you’re patient and observant, stunning flora and fauna is right in front of us here.’”
And as a longtime professor, the inner teacher came out in Matthews through sharing his photography.
“I’m looking for eye-catching images when I scroll social media, and these are from my neighborhood,” Hiskey said. “These are also educational because Rex captions the photos. I’ve learned names of birds and plants that for years I walked by and never knew. He’s teaching people, too.”
Helping other folks see what he sees expanded to Matthews entering photo competitions and exhibitions.
He entered the 7th ‘Stand In Ansel Adams’ Footsteps’ Exhibition in February, which was sponsored by the Georgia Nature Photographers Association (GNPA) and ended on April 30. He also entered two photos to the 2022 Flower Show at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in February, where one of his entries won an Honorable Mention.
In addition, Matthews had a photo selected for the 24-photo exhibition, ‘Georgia On My Mind’ at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, which is sponsored by the GNPA. This exhibition is still going on through the month of May.
Through his submissions, Matthews said for him, “it’s not really about getting a ribbon,” but rather, receiving feedback from panels of judges and learning how to improve for the future.
And when asked why photography, Matthews said, “it’s my form of art.”
“I don’t have particular talent, or hand-eye coordination for, let’s say, doing watercolor. When I was a kid, I took piano lessons…but I haven’t kept that up. Photography is my way of making stuff that I find attractive and beautiful, and sharing that with friends and neighbors and colleagues,” he said. “And it seems that they find some of what I do interesting and attractive and enjoy looking at it,” he said. “It’s my way of expressing a creative side of me – an impulse to create something lovely.”
To view more of Matthews’ work, visit his website here: https://rexdmatthews.smugmug.com.If you appreciate our work, please become a paying supporter. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us keep you in the loop about your community. To become a supporter, click here.
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