Eli Marris has another feather to add to his cap.
The Liverpool Middle School eighth-grader recently won first place in the New York State Fair’s photography contest in the seventh- through 12th-grade age division for his photo, “I Give A Hoot,” taken at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park. The photo is of an owl.
Eli said he was surprised to have placed so highly among such experienced competition.
“When I came into the reception area, I was pretty surprised,” he said. “I did not expect to get that high of a place. I thought I’d get lower than one. I knew it was accepted, but I didn’t expect first.”
This isn’t Eli’s first winning photo; last year, his “Boat on the Cape” earned the top prize in the lower age division. That photo, taken on the way to a family vacation in Cape Cod, is of a dilapidated boat in Stage Harbor in Chatham, Maine, and it has ties to another local artist: Jo Cullen of Baldwinsville, whom Marris and his mom, Tina, met at the Baldwinsville Public Library earlier this summer.
“I was entering a contest, which, sadly, I didn’t win,” Eli said. “It wasn’t all photography; it was also writing and 3D art. We went in to drop off a picture of the moon and a painter was there showing her work and one of her paintings caught my eye.”
Tina Marris said she and her son were in the midst of filling out the application when Eli suddenly rushed off.
“While we were filling it out, he said, ‘Hang on, I’ll be right back,’ and I said, ‘Eli, what are you doing? This is the last day to enter.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I know, I’ll be right back,’” Tina said. “And he walks over and he’s talking to the artist, Jo Cullen.”
Eli said he was drawn to a painting Cullen had done of a boat that looked just like the one he had photographed in Chatham. He told her of his photograph, and it turned out she had a story of her own to tell.
“She’d been riding bikes with her husband and she stopped to paint it,” Eli said. “It was almost the same picture.”
“We went home to get the picture Eli had taken to show her,” Tina said. “She sees with the same eye he has. She noticed the same boat on this back road where nobody goes. It was funny, because her husband didn’t want her to sell that painting. It was his favorite.”
During their talk, Cullen (jocullenart.com) also gave Eli advice about his work, advice that has also been echoed by friends and family members.
“My family has been finding all these magazine contests for me to enter, and Mrs. Straub down the road — she’s part of the family — suggested that I go around to the libraries and ask to show my work to sell,” Eli said. “She gave me an art portfolio to put my work in there. I’m also working on getting my website back up [elimarris.com].”
Eli has been taking photos on his own for some time. He learned many tricks of the trade from Kara Eicholzer, a Family and Consumer Science teacher at LMS who happens to live down the street from the Marrises. He recently obtained a digital SLR camera, along with a two-terabyte hard drive to hold all of his photos (dad Tim said they were taking up all of the space on the family computer). He’s also a member of the Photography Club at LMS, which Eicholzer advises with Barbara Salvagni.
“It’s about 10 people at school who get together and learn about photography together. Most of it is just a reminder of what I already knew,” Eli said. “Every week, we’d get an assignment of a photo we had to take. We also would go on field trips — places like the zoo, Carousel Mall, the Creekwalk.”
Eli said he wasn’t a big fan of many of the photography assignments.
“We had this nail polish thing,” he recalled. “We had to catch the drip perfectly. I didn’t know how to handle nail polish. It got all over the camera. I had to use this remover. It was a mess.”
Still, he said he found even those less-than-enjoyable assignments to be valuable.
“If you have a future in photography, your boss will have you take certain pictures,” he said.
That’s Eli’s goal — a future in photography.
“Definitely,” he said. “That’s what I want to do.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.