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Oxford High School senior Bhakti Patel making her photography dream a reality

In summer 2015, Bhakti Patel was bored. But once her mother bought her a camera, that all changed. In fact, her whole life did.

“I just started having photo shoots with my friends,” Patel, a senior at Oxford High, remembered she spoke to the EAGLE in a hallway across from the art rooms at OHS. “I realized that I really enjoyed it and that it was something that I could see myself doing.”

She enrolled in a photography class that fall at the high school taught by art teacher Ebony Nicole Johnson, who runs the department with her husband Duran.

“It made me realize that (Johnson) sees a lot of potential in her students,” Patel said. “I realized that I could make a career out of it.”

And the 18-year-old Patel is well on her way to making that dream a reality. She found out on March 14 via text message from Johnson that she won regional and national awards for her photography.

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards gave her four prestigious Gold Keys on the regional level (with her work being hung in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art).

It didn’t stop there. Patel made it to the National level where she received Gold and Silver Keys, as well as the chance for her prize-winning photo, “out of darkness”, to hang in Carnegie Hall in New York City. After four months, it will go on to tour the United States for two years.

Patel says she was in “absolute shock” when she got the news. But for anyone who has seen her work, it’s not surprising at all.

Many of her striking photos deal with the human condition: life, death and everything in between. These are topics that Patel had to handle recently when, last summer, her father was sick in the hospital with end stage liver disease in the family’s native hometown, Portland, Oregon. Patel was there by his side with her camera, capturing some of the intimate moments in that hospital room.

“I took pictures in the hospital and then that became my whole portfolio for my concentration,” Patel said. “He passed away in September and then I finished the portfolio. After that portfolio, I realized that I’m good enough now to do something with my life with photography. It was very therapeutic too.”

Her grandma was there by her father’s side around the clock, too. Patel’s photos “Grandma” and the portrait of her father, “Reality,” are snapshots of this trying time in her life.

“You can see the pain in her eyes,” Patel says of her picture “Grandma.”

Through having her in class, Johnson says that the “absolutely amazing” Patel has a bright future as a photographer and artist.

“The magic that exists with Bhakti is that she is an Indian-American artist and is defining America how she experiences it, feels about it and absorbs it through her eyes,” the art teacher said. “On top of all this, she is just 18.”

Following graduation, Patel plans to major in photography at college, having been accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design as well as Mississippi State. On top of photography, she’d like to pursue either a double major or minor in advertising or marketing.

“Bhakti will be an artist who defies reason, stereotypes and ideals of beauty or success,” Johnson added. “An art educator’s purpose is to not pass on their ideals of beauty relative to art, but accept all perspectives from the artists we train. We just cultivate and mature what they already have. For that I am thankful to her. I am thankful for her creativity and allowing me the opportunity to push her.”

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but through Patel’s lens, they’re worth so much more.