ELLSWORTH — Charlie Hunt made quite an impression on photographer Gerry Monteux.
At the time, Monteux had been at Flexit Cafe and Bakery in Ellsworth, one of the many spaces where he exhibits and sells his work. A well-established Maine nature photographer, his images have been acquired by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, among others.
“This guy comes up to me and he’s got his camera with him. And he goes, ‘Oh, hey, I’m a photographer. My name’s Charlie. Let me show you some of the things I’ve done,’” Monteux said. “I was very impressed.”
Kathleen Kearns also was impressed. The employment specialist and job developer with Empowers in Belfast had gone to Flexit to meet with Hunt and others to discuss his career options.
“We were talking and I said, ‘Where’s Charlie?’” Kearns said. “Charlie had gone in and met Gerry [Monteux] and started talking photography.”
As it turned out, Hunt, who has autism, found his own answer to the question of a career when he approached Monteux.
Walking up to someone and starting a conversation can be challenging for anyone, but communication is especially difficult for someone with autism, Kearns said.
Hunt participated in the Expedition Group, run by Downeast Horizons, through which he and others with autism went out into the community to improve their social skills.
“It has freed him up,” said his mother, Cindy Wailus of Penobscot.
Being able to talk to strangers is essential for someone who wants to make a name for himself in photography, said Monteux, who has since become Hunt’s mentor.
“When Charlie found out that Gerry was going to help him, Charlie said it was like winning the Super Bowl,” Wailus said.
In fact, Hunt calls Monteux the “Tom Brady of photography.”
Monteux knows not only the art of photography but also the business end of things, from post-processing and making prints, to participating in shows and selling. As a photographer, Hunt goes by the name C.W. Hunt, and his work is available at the Monteux Gallery in Hancock.
Hunt’s subjects vary from cityscapes to wildlife and, he said, one of his favorites is a photo of a nesting loon. Wailus and Hunt visited Washington, D.C., this past spring specifically so he could photograph the cherry blossoms in bloom. Wailus said she tries to take her son on trips regularly so he can shoot new subjects.
Wailus said one of the best parts about Monteux’s mentorship is that he has a knack for explaining things in understandable terms.
“I would like to get [Hunt] to the next level,” Monteux said. “He knows how to take a picture but you need to know what to do with the image afterward to make it better.”
Turning to Hunt, he said, “This is going to blow your mind!”
Even without a knowledge of post processing, Hunt has already done well. He participated in Arts in the Park in Belfast July 7 and his work will be a part of the Bucksport Arts Festival Aug. 10. Both shows are juried, which means artists’ work must be accepted into the show by a panel of peers.
Although his booth in Belfast was “not the flashiest,” said Wailus, his participation was a success. He made sales — and connections.
Wailus said other photographers came by to check out their booth and many of them struck up conversations with Hunt.
“They all said, ‘You’ve got a good eye,’” Wailus said.
Hunt, who has lived in his own Ellsworth apartment since March 2007, said he has always been interested in photography. A trip to New York City in the spring of 1997 was key in helping him to discover his passion.
He took along a disposable camera and, when he returned, teachers and other students at Penobscot Elementary, where he attended school, were impressed, Wailus said.
“People were making a big fuss,” she said. “When he was showing off the pictures, they were, like, wow. That’s when I discovered he had a gift.”
Hunt said he got his first real camera, a Kodak Easy Share, in 2008. He found it difficult to transition from using a viewfinder to set up his shots to using the flat screen found on digital cameras.
He went on to take two adult education classes in photography, both offered through Regional School Unit 24’s adult education program. It came easy, which is unusual for someone with autism.
“It was fascinating for me to see this,” Wailus said. “It’s very difficult for him to learn something new [but] he seemed to just understand everything.”
Now, with Monteux’s assistance, Hunt is mastering the use of a Canon Rebel, which has interchangeable lenses.
“Photography must be what he was born to do,” Wailus said.
Monteux said helping Hunt is easy.
“He’s got talent. And he’s got a great eye and he wants to learn,” Monteux said.
“I want to get my pictures known,” said Hunt, before turning to Monteux and adding, “I want to be as good as you.”
His mentor replied without hesitation: “And I want to be as good as you.”
To see Charlie Hunt’s work, stop by Monteux Gallery (Inside Best Wines) at 1424 U.S. Route 1 in Hancock. For more info, call 408-1413 and visit monteuxgallery.com.