Cass County Democrat Missourian

Disorder left her with limited vision. But Cass teen an award-winning photographer

An avid nature photographer, Holly Hazelrigg enjoys photographing natural phenomena, such as rainbows and lighting.
An avid nature photographer, Holly Hazelrigg enjoys photographing natural phenomena, such as rainbows and lighting.

In late July, Holly Hazelrigg’s parents picked her up from summer camp. On the way home, they surprised her with a stop at the Cass County Fair Youth Photography Show.

But that wasn’t the real surprise awaiting this aspiring photographer from Peculiar.

Unknown to the teen, her parents, Susan and Ron Hazelrigg, had entered one of her photos in the fair’s photography contest while she was at camp.

As Hazelrigg, 17, made her way through the exhibit, she discovered the photograph — with a first-place ribbon attached.

“I was in total shock when I saw my photograph had won, especially since I didn’t even know it was entered,” she said. “It took me a few seconds to realize it was my photograph.”

Holly faces an obstacle that might seem daunting, if not prohibitive, to a visual artist. She has aniridia. This incurable eye disorder results in numerous ocular complications, including severely compromised vision and intense light sensitivity.

The teen, born in Russia and adopted at 3, was not diagnosed with the condition until she came to the United States with her new family.

“We didn’t know what Holly’s diagnosis was, until we brought her home from Russia and had her seen by an ophthalmologist,” her mother said. “We, of course, had wrongly assumed it was something that could be corrected.”

Though the fair contest was a first for Holly, photography has been her passion for more than a year. From the outset of this artistic journey, her iPhone camera has been her instrument of creation. Inspired by the device’s innovative options, Hazelrigg is continually exploring its technology.

“I’m always trying new techniques and new things with the camera to grow in my work,” she said.

Though aniridia has limited her sight, Holly does not let it impede her creative expression. Rather, her work is sourced from a deeper internal place. The concepts for her images originate in her imagination and this guides her artistic choices. Innovative in style and technique, she expands the boundaries of her exploration in order to convey her ideas.

In other words, Holly has transformed what could be a limitation into personal and creative strengths.

“It’s different because I have low vision and I have to use my imagination,” she said. “I think of the ideas and plan the photos ahead of time.”

During the past year, Holly’s mother has watched her daughter persevere to achieve her goals and follow her joy.

“Holly has had a lot of challenges ..... She’s also very sensitive to light, having been born without irises in her eyes. She’s also really shy,” Susan Hazelrigg said. “One of the most inspiring things about Holly is how she rises to overcome each and every challenge presented to her.”

One of those challenges is selecting her subjects.

Holly is most inspired by nature, in particular phenomena like rainbows and lightning.

“We don’t have a real grasp of what Holly sees, but from the time she was very young, she’s been able to pick out a rainbow before anyone else sees it,” her mother said.

This fall, Holly will take her first photography class as a junior at Ray-Pec High School. Looking to the future, her plans are to pursue a photography career. Holly is also a member of the choir and loves to draw.

“Our lives are brightened by Holly’s smile and happiness,” said her father, Ron Hazelrigg. “We want her to be successful, so we’re excited and joyful right along with her.”