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Passion for photography: Bemidji High School junior’s eye-catching skills inspiring others

Mariah took this shot during a photography and design camp at Concordia Language Villages.

BEMIDJI – Photography has always been a part of Mariah Parks’ life.

Sixteen-year-old Mariah Parks uses a point-and-shoot camera to capture her inspirational images. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

“I’ve been taking pictures forever,” Parks said. “When I was a kid, I would go through those little disposable cameras instantly.”

The Bemidji High School junior, 16, isn’t an adult quite yet, but a look at her photos suggests the work of a seasoned veteran.

Take, for example, a recent photo she took for a 4-H photography/digital media and engineering design camp at Concordia Language Villages.

It’s a picture of a leaf on the wet ground, with raindrops covering it.

Parks said it was simply something she found walking around in the woods – a constant source of inspiration for her.

“I liked how the drops aren’t all around it,” she said. “But it’s symmetrical, with all the drops on just this one side. Since you can tell the ground is wet, it gives a different mood.

“It wasn’t sunny out, it’s not a bright period of day, but the color is yellow. It’s not a perfect leaf, but because it’s damaged it gives it character. There are just a lot of different colors and textures.”

Mariah took this shot during a photography and design camp at Concordia Language Villages.

Parks said she was one of the youngest people at the camp – it was for adults – and even the instructor was amazed by her explanation of why she took the shot.

“He said, ‘I don’t think any of us could have come up with that answer, and you’re the youngest one here.’”

inspired by nature

Parks grew up in Burnsville and moved to the Bemidji area with her family before high school.

Luckily for her, the family now lives on a farm. She joined 4-H, which was instrumental in shaping her photo skills.

“That’s when it started taking off, when we moved up here,” she said. “Pretty much every year I’ve progressed and my passion for photography gets stronger every year. Now it’s a big part of my life … it’s everything to me.”

Animals were an early passion – fitting, since 4-H’ers spend a lot of time around livestock and other farm creatures. As she’s grown older, she’s become more interested in other things: still life, abstracts and portraits.

This black-and-white portrait,“Two Girls Outside Door,” earned Mariah Parks a blue ribbon at this year’s Minnesota State Fair.

In fact, it was a portrait that earned her a blue ribbon at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. The photo, titled “Two Girls Outside Door,” is a 5-by-7-inch black and white of her and a friend.

Still, many of Parks’ subjects are nature scenes.

“A lot of them are just me in my backyard,” she said. “We have a lot of land. And there’s just some days where I just wake up and I feel inspired to walk around and see what I see.”

Still breaking in

Parks uses a Fujifilm Finepix point-and-shoot to take most of her shots, which perhaps makes them even more impressive. It’s a nice camera, but not what one would normally consider  professional.

Most of her knowledge is self-taught.

“I’ve used some Nikons and some of the bigger cameras,” she said. “I pretty much do everything with this small one. It works.”

Parks hasn’t sold any of her work. Yet. Although she gets plenty of requests at school. And her work has been recognized by 4-H and by, a website that featured photographs of different aspects of life around town.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me to use my stuff as backdrops on their computer and screen savers,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m also getting into putting some stuff into souvenir shops in town. I’d like to start off there, and see where it takes me.”

Mariah has proven she has a keen eye — and patience — to produce photographs like this one.

She says she’d like to become a professional photographer someday. You know, when she graduates from high school.

“That’s the goal,” she said. “I’d like to start my own studio. Don’t know as much about the business part of it but I’m eager to keep learning.”

Mariah captured these fall colors from a unique angle looking skyward.

Laurie Swenson
Laurie Swenson is a reporter/copy editor for the Bemidji Pioneer. She has been with the Pioneer since 2004.