As it turned out, taking the photographs was the simple part. Getting in touch with the people New York City photographer Eric McNatt used in his portraits for model releases was the difficult part of the process.

“I guess people didn’t want to pick up the phone when they saw a New York area code on their caller-IDs,” McNatt said Saturday afternoon after a reception for models at The Turtle downtown who are featured in the book “American Character: A Photographic Journey.”

“My cousin had to go door-to-door asking for model releases,” McNatt said. “I guess people just don’t want to be bothered by long distance callers they don’t recognize.”

McNatt, a Brownwood native, focused his cameras on people in his hometown when he was one of 11 professional photographers selected by USA Network last summer for its “Character Project.” The assignment led to a national media campaign including promotions on television, a hardcover book and a traveling art exhibit.

The exhibit at The Turtle this weekend featured only images taken by McNatt, and the 47 local people whose photographs were included in the book were invited to attend.

McNatt gave each of them an 11x17 print of their photograph. He has previously sent a copy of the book to those in it.

Framed portraits hanging on the walls of The Turtle were for sale through a silent auction.

The price tag on the portraits reflects his cost of printing, framing and shipping the photographs to Brownwood, McNatt said.

The project helped expand his professional reputation, if it didn’t exactly open any doors for him financially.

“We’re in the middle of the worst economic conditions in years,” McNatt said. “There’s just no work.”

But his critically-acclaimed portraits of everyday Texans that were published in the book and featured in the exhibit showed potential clients a side of his work they might not have known before.

“I was known pretty much as a celebrity photographer,” McNatt said. “Now they can see that’s not all I am.”

For anyone doubting McNatt’s Texans credentials, McNatt cleared that up during a conversation with one of the reception’s guests.

“No, I’m from here,” he said to a question about his home. “I live in New York.”

More than 200 people attended the Saturday afternoon reception, Emily Crawford, tourism director for the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce, said.

“It was a very successful reception,” Crawford said. “These photographs will continue to be on display here for a while.”

She and chamber CEO Laura Terhune showed pictures of last year’s opening exhibit held in New York City where the images commissioned by USA Network were unveiled.