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8-year-old photographer's skills lead to his own exhibit

By BRETT NUCKLES Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 10:39 AM EST

Novice photographer Landon Bailey isn't content to keep his fresh view of nature to himself.

The 8-year-old shutterbug from Westerville often can be found on his hands and knees, camera in hand, capturing crisp autumn leaves or slimy snails in sharp detail.

Landon's keen eye hasn't gone unnoticed. The second-grader's photos won him a prize in a statewide art contest, and even landed him his first gallery show.

Sixteen of Landon's favorite shots will be exhibited Jan. 23 to Feb. 25 at Gallery 202 in Uptown Westerville, located above the Amish Originals furniture store at 38 N. State St.

A special reception is set for 2 p.m. Feb. 20 at the gallery, to give the public a chance to meet Landon and share in his personal vision of Westerville. Landon is a bona fide nature nut.

He takes outdoor trips with the nature club at Wilder Elementary, where he attends schools, keeps a pet lizard named Drago and is waiting for a moth to hatch from its cocoon in his indoor bug box.

His favorite subjects to photograph are trees and insects. He snapped his first photos last year for his school's PTA "Reflections" contest, taking third place at the state contest with a striking close-up shot of a red autumn leaf. He already has a new photo ready for this year's contest: a shot of a slinking snake coiled beneath a rock. Landon snapped the photo while exploring a gorge while visiting his mom at work.

Gary Gardiner, a resident artist at Gallery 202 and retired Associated Press photographer, knew right away that Landon's work was something special. Gardiner decided to give Landon his own show after meeting the young artist and his mother last year.

"The neat thing about him is that he's not afraid to literally get down on the ground for a photo, or look at things from a different angle," he said. Landon's effortless compositions were striking given his age and inexperience, Gardiner said. He doesn't just point and shoot -- he considers the angle of the shot and the lighting, then carefully aligns his subject with background and foreground details. "He already has a grasp of how it all works and fits together," he said. "It's really amazing to me."

With all their artistic strengths, the photos also have a charming quality that the veteran AP photographer could only describe as a childlike naivete -- the mark of an artist without regard for what will sell in the marketplace.

Marsha Bailey said that she knew her son was on to something when she noticed similarities between her son's photos and Gardiner's.

The amateur photographer's nature shots had a lot in common with the expert's, the proud mom said.

But while meeting Gardiner was a moment of inspiration for her son, Landon has no plans to copy the other photographer's style, Bailey said. "He's always had a different way of looking at things that's all his own," she said.

The young photographer, who likes to watch NASCAR and monster trucks when he's not exploring the woods, said he has no plans on letting that vision go. "I just like to learn about nature, so I want to keep taking pictures," he said. "He already has a grasp of how it all works and fits together. It's really amazing to me." --photographer Gary Gardiner