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12-year-old's photo finds the famous photographer who inspired it

Casey Raz, a Hazelbrook sixth-grader, received a letter and package from photographer Peter Lik after winning Tualatin's Arbor Week Photo Contest


TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Casey Raz, a sixth-grader at Hazelbrook Middle School, prepares to take photos of the pond in his backyard. Raz won the Arbor Week Photo Contest for the city and was recognized by photographer Peter Lik.When Casey Raz saw the sunset from Ibach Park in Tualatin on Valentine's Day, he knew he had to take a picture. Remembering that an Arbor Week Photo Contest was going on in the city, he adjusted his angle and found the perfect shot, featuring a tree's silhouette against the multi-colored backdrop.

“I was just at the park playing basketball with one of my friends. There was a sunset, and I don't like taking pictures of just one thing — I like to add different things into it,” said Casey, a Hazelbrook Middle School sixth-grader. “There was a tree next to it, so I just got behind the tree and took the picture.”

After Casey, 12, found out he'd won the contest last month, he was thrilled with the award and gift certificates that came along with it. Little did he know, an even grander package would soon be heading to his Tualatin home from the very photographer who's work inspired Casey to keep taking pictures. It was a year and a half ago when Casey and his parents walked into the Peter Lik gallery in Hawaii, unknowingly setting into motion a journey none of them could have predicted.SUBMITTED PHOTO - This is the winning photo Casey Raz shot for the Arbor Week Photo Contest.

“We saw the Peter Lik gallery, and we looked in and the pictures were amazing, so we went in,” said Casey. “They're just really cool. It feels like you're there even though you're just looking at a picture on the wall. The way he takes it, and where he takes them, it just makes you feel like you're there.”

Having started taking photos at age 8, Casey was inspired by Lik's photography, and said he tries to emulate his style when shooting his own photos. During an interview with The Oregonian after winning the Arbor Week contest, Casey mentioned Lik as his inspiration, and after one of Lik's employees saw the article online, they immediately brought it to the professional photographer's attention.

“I was extremely touched by this young bloke — a kid after my own heart!” Lik, an Australian based in Las Vegas, Nev., wrote in an email. “I was immediately transported back to my own youth, remembering what it was like to be a child full of dreams looking at the world in such an innocent way. It is a feeling I try so hard to keep with me even today. Casey's got a real good start and a lot of talent.”

Struck by Casey's story and his winning photo, Lik — who holds the world record for most expensive photo ever sold — knew he had to reach out in some way. So he sent Casey a package, complete with a signed copy of his book “Spirit of America” and a signed Lik Elements blur pack.

Reaching out to fans and collectors is something Lik said he always tries to do, but he also said it isn't always possible, so when it came to Casey, he knew he had to make something happen.

“The coincidences between Casey and I are amazing,” said Lik, noting that like Casey, he also began shooting at age 8. “He is talented and ambitious at such a young age. I can relate to him, and believe it or not, he can relate to me whether he knows it or not. It's rare that I get recognized by someone of his age. It deserved my attention. No question.”TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Casey Raz began taking photos at age 8. Now 12, he continues to shoot and plans to continue in the future.

But for Casey, the gifts Lik sent last week weren't even the best part.

“The best part of it was probably the letter that he wrote to me,” he said. “I was shaking; it was awesome. It's really cool, because nothing like this has ever happened before.”

Primarily shooting with his iPhone camera, Casey said he never expected to win the Arbor Week contest because he didn't have the fancy cameras that other people might have been using. In his letter, Lik praised Casey for not letting this barrier stand in his way.

“Congratulations on your huge win! I am officially now your biggest fan!” he wrote. “That goes to show you that natural instincts can triumph over professional technology any day — an important lesson, mate.”

And for Casey, his instincts are already teaching him how to capture moments. He doesn't tend to worry as much about what the final image itself will look like, but more about what feeling it will evoke from the viewer.

A photo “can have a whole story behind it, or it can just be a picture of a place that makes you feel like you're there,” he said. “You'll never get that moment again — you might as well take it.”

While photography has been looming large in Casey's life lately, it's not the only activity taking up this middle schooler's precious time. A straight-A student, much of his free time is spent doing homework, he said, and the rest of his time is consumed with football and lacrosse, depending on the season. Dedicated to both his creative and athletic endeavors, Casey said he loves them both so much in part because of how different they are.

“With sports, it's kind of a team thing, but with art and photography, you can do what you want. It's just free,” he said. “It can describe so many different things, from things you've gone through in your life to something that happened just a couple days ago.”

For Lik, knowing that someone as young as Casey appreciates the beauty in photography and the meaning behind it is inspiration in and of itself.

“It is the best feeling I can imagine — way better than winning any award or breaking any sales record,” he said. “Landscape photography is an artistic tradition that means everything to me. It celebrates the world's greatest artist, Mother Nature. To have that tradition continue with people like Casey and know I had a part in it, well, let's just say it put a smile on my face.”

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