Young Oldsmar photographer making her mark

15-year-old Maria Ilardi of Oldsmar hones in on a subject at the Sponge Docks during the 2018 Tarpon Springs Paint and Photo contest. (Credit: Myrna Ilardi)

Many teens today love taking photos, typically of the cell-phone-selfie variety.

But some, like 15-year-old Maria Ilardi of Oldsmar, prefer to snap shots the “old fashioned” way—by using a high-tech DSLR camera.

Ilardi, a sophomore at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, said she has been taking photos of her surroundings “her whole life,” and she was recently rewarded for her excellent eye and skills, earning an honorable mention for a piece she submitted in the 2018 Tarpon Springs Paint and Photo competition.

“Nice texture, use of space and thematic subject matter,” Judge Lisa Sibley said of Ilardi’s piece, a shot of sea sponges titled “Bubbles in the Sun.”

15-year-old Oldsmar resident Maria Ilardi won an Honorable Mention at the 2018 Tarpon Springs Paint and Photo contest for this photo, titled “Bubbles in the Sun.”

Event organizer Heather Risley noted Sibley had no idea the work was created by a teenager who was the youngest of 60 contest entrants, by a wide margin.

“I chose it because of how interesting and different it was, this is what I think is unique about Tarpon Springs,” Ilardi said of the piece.

“I felt honored and privileged to receive the Honorable Mention Award and I’m glad that I could share this experience with others.”

15-year-old Maria Ilardi of Oldsmar and her mom, Myrna, at the registration session for the 2018 Tarpon Springs Paint and Photo contest.

While the shy teen isn’t the type to toot her own horn regarding her accomplishments, Maria’s mom, Myrna, was more than happy to talk about her daughter’s talent behind the lens, which started at a young age and has continued to improve over the years.

“When she was little, like six years old, that’s when we found out she likes photography,” Myrna Ilardi said during the contest registration session.

“She started with a little kid’s camera, and then we got her a better one when she graduated from middle school, but she has always had a very good eye. She feels the vibe of the area she’s in and when she sees what she wants to shoot, she knows it.”

Myrna said her daughter also likes to paint and “has been involved in the arts for years, since she was in pre-k,” and she noted she honed her shutterbug skills by joining the photography club at East Lake Middle School.

When asked what she prefers to shoot, Maria shrugged and said she didn’t have a particular genre she focused on.

“I like different things, like nature and sunsets,” she said softly.

15-year-old Maria Ilardi of Oldsmar working on-site during the 2018 Tarpon Springs Paint and Photo contest. (Credit: Myrna Ilardi)

While she admitted she was excited to participate in the Paint and Photo contest, Maria said she doesn’t enter competitions to win.

“I don’t usually do these to win or lose, but just to share a gift,” she said.

“It’s fun and I love doing it and I like sharing my work for others to see.”

Of course, having such a keen eye and a taste of success at such an early age begs the question: would she want to be a professional photographer?

“Sure,” Maria said. “That would be nice.”

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