Rachel Lee walked by that plant in that bottle, sitting unassumingly on her family's kitchen counter, for several years before deciding to take the photograph.
"I usually will be staring at a certain thing, and it suddenly just catches my eye," Lee, a Soldotna High School student, said at her Artists Without Borders exhibit Thursday night. That's what happened with the saffron and hunter-colored plant that appears to be growing out of the olive-colored glass bottle.
"I am not trying to make it have a secret, meaningful message, but it's not so bluntly a plant in a bottle," Lee said. "It's showing that things that we pass by every day we don't actually see, we don't even notice."
Lee's original photos filled the walls in a room inside the 4D Professional Building Thursday. Her work has been accepted into the past three statewide Rarified Light fine art photography exhibits.
Thursday's display highlighted the teenager's skills in experimental photorealist images. With more than 100 professional-quality photographs, it's safe to say Lee is one of the central peninsula's most successful student artists.
Lee says she first got into art as a young girl when one of her drawings was well received.
"When I was little, I drew a picture and my mom showed it to the teacher, and they started saying it was really interesting the way I drew it," Lee recalled. "I thought I would keep going."
Since then, Lee's artistic eye has continued to evolve. She says diverse shapes and colors often attract her attention. Take the plant in the bottle, for instance.
"I really like the angles and the light on the base and how the light came through the petals and the shadows the petals created on each other," Lee said when asked to explain her work.
One photo Lee chose to point out was of a frozen lake that had been skated on or somehow chipped away. The photo's dark blue contrasted with wisps of white made the image look almost like an expressionistic vision of a snowstorm.
"This was taken when I was 10. I didn't know anything about contrast or zoom or anything," Lee said of the photograph. "I liked the geometric shapes. You see a whole bunch of cracked ice a lot, but you don't always see the circles and triangles and diamonds."
Lee entered the cracked ice photo into a show in Kenai as an 11-year-old. Contestants were allowed submit their work with their name, but judges were not given any more information about the entrants. When the judges handed Lee her honorable mention award, they were stunned to find an 11-year-old had taken the picture.
"They thought it was probably an accident and banned all other kids from going," Lee said with a chuckle.
At 15, Lee already seems to be a true artist. She wore a hat festooned with buttons and a Kenai Peninsula Orchestra T-Shirt on Thursday. She said she also draws in addition to taking photographs.
Lee said she enjoys entering contests but says the outcome doesn't necessarily interest her.
"Competing, I guess, is kind of a bonus. I just like entering and seeing what happens. I don't really care if people like it," Lee said. "I just want to see what people think. It doesn't matter to me, I just want to know."
At the moment, Lee says art and photography is all for fun.
"It's just a hobby. I don't want to go to a school for it, because I don't like people teaching me how to do it," Lee said. "I don't really know technical stuff about the photography. I just point and shoot."
Her statewide and local success suggests otherwise. So does her keen vision. A piano is just a piano to most -- its artistic possibility mostly in its sound -- but to Lee, the instrument itself is also a work of art.
"I was practicing piano, I looked down and saw the shapes and really liked it. I thought it was interesting at the time so I took the picture," Lee said, looking at the image she had captured. The photograph shows only a small section of black and white keys, not all 88. "I just liked that one section of the entire scene.
"I am not trying to say that this is really beautiful and unique," Lee continued. "I just like taking pictures."
Andrew Waite can be reached at email@example.com.
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