By Norm Miller
CLEVELAND, Ga. (TMCNews) -- Warm spring air and bright sunshine invited Macie Perry to walk down a small country lane near her home in Moreland, Ga.
Instinctively, she grabbed her point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot camera on the way out the door; and the image she captured of an old red barn that April day later won a national photo contest, garnering Perry a $250 cash award, a free trip to Washington, D.C., and a congressional reception on Capitol Hill at the Rayburn House Office Building Sept. 6.
"The little street where the barn is -- it's one of my favorite places in all of Coweta County," said Perry, a junior at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga.
Perry had always wanted to take pictures of the old, but still inhabited farm place near her home. Gaining permission to walk around the site, Perry saw the barn and snapped the shot judged the best by Eric Draper, the former official White House photographer for President George W. Bush -- a role he yet fulfills for the Bush family.
Several weeks after taking the shot, a friend who was familiar with Perry's photography encouraged her to enter a photo contest. After wading through results from an Internet search, Perry settled on the "Picture a Better America" contest because it had no entry fee, she said.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers launched the photo contest to draw legislators' attention to both the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and the need to pass jobs-creating legislation regarding America's crumbling infrastructure.
"I didn't know anything about 'I Make America,'" Perry said. But she entered the barn picture in one of four categories -- "America Grows Here" -- and took top prize among hundreds of entries from across the U.S.
Perry said she entered the contest thinking nothing would come of it. "So I just kinda forgot about it," she said. But when the Aug. 24 call came relating that she'd won, Perry was driving across campus to the dining hall.
"Driving wasn't the best thing to be doing when receiving that message," said Perry, who almost hit another car. "I had to replay it because, honestly, I didn't think it was for real. But when the message said I'd won an all-expense-paid trip to D.C., then I remembered the contest."
Perry called her parents. Both were shocked and excited, but also a bit leery about their daughter, who'd never traveled by airplane, trekking off to D.C.
As for Perry, she didn't need the airplane: "I was pretty much walking on a cloud, and I'm still walking on a cloud," she told TMCNews.
Perry rode in a taxi for the first time upon arriving in D.C., an experience "more terrifying than the flight 'cause those guys drive like nuts," she said.
That evening found Perry at the awards ceremony attended by some 150 legislators, congressional staffers, and other D.C. dignitaries, including Georgia Congressman Lynn A. Westmoreland, a representative from Grantville, near where Perry lives.
Contest officials gave Perry a copy of her picture professionally mounted, and she gave it to Westmoreland, who said he'd hang the picture in his congressional office.
Perry said the Rayburn Building's foyer displayed numerous contest entries in honorable mention, but the winning contestants' photos each were shown via a large flat screen during the award ceremony.
The last award presented and, subsequently, the final photo on the screen was Perry's. "My photograph stayed up on the screen for the rest of the evening," she said. "That was very cool. I couldn't stop smiling. I kept looking at it and would say to myself, 'I took that picture -- a random picture. I was just out for a walk and decided to take that picture.'"
Following the ceremony, Perry joined the other contestants for dinner. "I enjoyed the meal, but was disappointed the tea wasn't sweet," the south Georgia native said.
Draper also attended the meal. He sat next to Perry and related aspects of his award-winning career in photojournalism.
"Mr. Draper was so down-to-earth," Perry said. "He took a special interest in me because among all the winners, I'm the only one who wants a career in photography."
"I feel God's calling on my life to use the camera for his glory all the time." Perry told TMCNews. "I feel really humbled that God is using me the way he is right now. I never dreamed in a million years this would happen. It's just incredible. I get chills every time I think about it, and I think about it often."