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Photographer frames memories for Art on the Mall

A stolen moment brought life into focus for Agnes L. Barnes.

In 1985, she and her husband, Chet Barnes, were on vacation in California when their friend’s car was broken into; the thief took her vintage camera, an Argus C3.

Agnes and Chet Barnes hold two of her photographs taken at the Toledo Museum of Art and Wildwood Preserve Metropark. The couple will be at Art on the Mall Sunday, July 29.

“Then I bought a Canon Rebel G,” she said. “Right after that, we went to South Africa, and I got some really nice pictures.”

A photograph of three majestic elephants crossing the road at Kruger National Park. A crouching lion near Johannesburg. Thatched-roof huts in Soweto.

“When people saw the photos from South Africa and commented on how great the pictures were, I realized, well, maybe I have an ability many people don’t have. I was 50 years old before I discovered this,” Agnes said and laughed.

“She never had a lesson in photography. She’s taken pictures, pictures and more pictures,” Chet said beaming with pride. “Her first show was in Sylvania in 1994. We had photos hanging on chicken wire under an umbrella. She won a blue ribbon and sold so many photos.”

More shows and awards followed. And more photos.

Freshly fallen snow on the boardwalk at Wildwood Preserve Metropark. UT’s iconic University Hall bell tower. The colorful animal menagerie mural on the railroad bridge over the Anthony Wayne Trail by the Toledo Zoo. A close-up of a pink rose with dewdrops.

Agnes L. Barnes looked at daisies in her garden. She loves taking photographs of flowers.

“A lot of the photos are serendipity,” Chet said. “I hear all the time, ‘Chet, get the camera.’ I’ll think she’s had enough time for a shot, and I look over and her toes are moving her back and forth: She has to get it just right.”

“I like to capture the beauty for others to enjoy that beauty,” Agnes said.

After Chet retired from Toledo Public Schools in 1996, the couple traveled so Agnes could capture more beauty.

The two have been up and down the East Coast, zooming in on lighthouses and old Southern homes. They went to England and visited quaint villages and gorgeous gardens. Island-hopping on Pohnpei, Guam, Saipan and Hawaii found lush, tropical paradises. And during two weeks in China, Agnes pointed her camera at the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors.

“So many people have told me that looking at my photos is like taking a vacation,” Agnes said.

While her striking images can transport viewers, she didn’t recognize her superpower for years.

“I didn’t look at the camera as an artistic tool; I just looked at it as something to record for future reference,” Agnes said.

“During my early years, I was born in 1937, and then World War II started, and film was very difficult to get. We did not have many pictures of my family growing up. So I made up my mind I was going to make sure I had pictures of my little brother and of my own children someday.”

With her mom’s Brownie camera, Agnes took photos of her baby brother, Paul, who was born in 1950. And then with the Argus C3, she clicked away while her children, John and Beth Ann, were growing up.

When 11-year-old Beth Ann passed away from leukemia in 1980, those images helped Agnes and Chet.

Agnes L. Barnes’ photographs appear in the book, “Choosing the Gift: Dealing With the Loss of a Loved One.”

“Most of the photos of my children were on slides, which turned out to be a really good thing,” Agnes said. “After Beth Ann’s death, I gave talks on how to help grieving families, and I showed slides of her, plus audio of her, so people would feel like they knew her, and they could see where our grief was coming from. I gave talks for 10 years.”

For nearly a decade, Agnes and Chet facilitated a bereavement group for parents.

And some of Agnes’ breathtaking shots of nature are featured in a book, “Choosing the Gift: Dealing With the Loss of a Loved One,” by Dr. Scott Shepherd and the photographer.

“The majority of the pictures I sell are because they bring back memories to my customers, I do believe,” she said.

Agnes and Chet will return to Art on the Mall Sunday, July 29. The cute couple sporting matching T-shirts that say “Eye-Catching Photos by Agnes L. Barnes” will be among more than 100 artists showcasing their work from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the free, juried show on Centennial Mall.

“Art on the Mall is a good show,” Agnes said. “Many of my customers are repeat customers; they return again and again. One lady told me that she has an entire wall that she calls her ‘Agnes wall’ because it is filled with my photos. It’s nice to keep in contact with my customers.”

Chet likes returning to his alma mater each summer; he received a master of education degree and an education specialist in guidance and counselor education in 1973 and 1975, respectfully.

“Every picture has a story,” he said.

“Chet is good at telling stories and keeping people in the booth,” Agnes said and smiled.

A missed photo opportunity is one of his favorite tales.

“The one time we didn’t have a camera was when we met Elvis Presley,” he said. “True story!”