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Teens photos enliven Mills House
Photographer Ryan Willet talks with guest Suzanne Baroody in the hallway of the Mills House where 55 of Willet’s photos are on display. Willet met with guests during the exhibit’s opening night of the exhibit. His photographs will be on display until Nov. 24. - photo by Photo by Seraine Page
Three years ago, Ryan Willet opened a box that changed his life forever.
His mother, Terri, gave him a Canon SX10 as a Christmas gift to inspire the then 16-year-old Willet to pick up a hobby she once loved.
 “Once I picked up a camera, it just came natural to me,” said Willet, now 18.
On Wednesday, the photographer met with friends, family and community members who wandered around the freshly painted old Mills House in Hinesville for an exhibit of 55 of Willet’s photos, each hung in black frames throughout the historic house’s rooms.
Visitors looked at the 18x24-inch shots of things that most young people wouldn’t bother to stop and photograph as they go about their everyday lives.
A shot of a peacock, its bright plumage fully fanned.
The American flag fluttering in the wind as the sun peeps through the fabric.
A lone man standing on a deserted dock, cigarette in hand.
“I like to bring out things that people don’t see,” said Willet of his photography subjects. He pointed to a shot of a small shell perched on a Jacksonville beach’s expansive shore.
One photograph in particular depicts a young soldier, Willet’s cousin, handing a carefully wrapped American flag to Willet’s aunt during his grandfather’s funeral at the Georgia Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Glennville.
Although he was photographing an intimate moment, Willet said he looks past that because photography is a way for him to get away.
“Everybody has their own taste,” said Willet of his style. “I’m generally in it for me ... I just like taking pictures.”
Willet plans to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design next fall and said, ideally, he would like to spend a year in Savannah studying photography and then a year in France for a new experience.
“I’ve always wanted to go. I love everything about it, [like] the landscape,” he said of his desire to study abroad. “It is just totally different from here.”
The Long County resident also enjoys gathering inspiration from magazines like National Geographic. He said his love of photography comes from his mother, who still enjoys taking photos.
When he’s looking for audible inspiration, Willet listens to tunes by his three favorite artists: Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Jack Johnson. He even has two shots of Mayer in his exhibit collection that he shot while Mayer sang a solo a few feet away from him.
It is one of Willet’s top three favorite photos.
“Anytime I’m upset, I go out and take pictures,” he said. “That’s how I center myself.”
His favorite compliment came from a woman who told the young photographer, “If all your photographs were in black and white, they would resemble Ansel Adams.” He said, “That’s crazy.”
Hinesville Area Arts Council Chairwoman Leah Poole said Willet was chosen to showcase his art because of the amount of work the young artist was willing to put into making the exhibit come to life.
“Ryan said he would be willing to put in the sweat to put it up in a month,” said Poole, who mentioned another artist would have had her work displayed but another commitment arose. 
“We want as many people as possible to come out [to the exhibit],” the chairwoman said, “and appreciate the art and the community and county and appreciate our local talent.”
The Mills House needed a lot of work, including painting, and Willet helped prepare the house in two weeks, Poole said.
As for being one of the first young artists showcased at the Mills House, Willet said he was blown away seeing his art displayed for people other than his friends and family to critique.
“It is really, really cool,” he said with a smile. “It makes me look at my work differently.”
The exhibit will run through Nov. 24 at the old Mills House on the corner of Memorial Drive and Oglethorpe Highway before moving on to be displayed at the Best Western and Liberty Elementary School.
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