Photographer Queani Riley’s work is currently featured at Art Downtown, 1413 Newcastle St., Brunswick. The show, which includes pieces by Dakota Graf, will be on display through Aug. 31.

A pack of First Friday patrons swarmed around Soglo Gallery in downtown Brunswick. It was the first night of an exhibition showcasing two young photographers — Dakota Graf and Queani Riley.

Graf was a familiar face at the venue, having starred in productions at the adjoining Brunswick Actor’s Theatre. But Riley was new there.

Surrounded by a sea of friends and family, he entered the building to find his images positioned around the room, interspersed with Graf’s work. And he couldn’t hold back his emotion.

“I cried when I walked in ... I did,” he said.

It’s easy to understand why. His journey to photographer began with a serious injury just last year.

“I started because I was in a terrible car accident. I broke my leg and couldn’t walk for four months,” the 21-year-old said.

For a while, Riley would spend his days playing video games. But he wanted to do something more.

“I am an active person, so I didn’t really like doing that. While I was in the process of healing, my mother gave me an iPhone 7, and I started an Instagram account,” he said.

That changed everything. He started exploring photography through his phone’s camera lens. And after getting feedback from friends, he really started investing all he had in the art form.

“My friends told me about using the hashtags and everything. I started to get very serious about it after that,” he said.

As a result, Riley’s skills and fan base grew, now totaling more than 3,000. Most of the images he shares on his account — @aki.yasuke — are of the natural world, but he also pairs the images with relevant quotes that speak to him.

“’Aki’ means ‘unique one’ in Japanese, so that’s why I chose that ... ‘Yasuke,’ well I just thought that was a cool name that I like,” he said with a laugh.

“I wanted to capture rare stuff,” he said. “I also wanted to capture the things that ordinary people like us see every day, but in a new way. I want my Instagram to be dreamy and to show people my perspective.”

The quotes too are carefully selected to serve as inspiration to his followers or those who see his work in the gallery.

“I hope that when people read the quotes, it just makes their day a little better,” he said.

Looking back at his progression, it’s still a bit overwhelming. After all, Riley simply stumbled on Art Downtown and met the owner Lynda Dalton Gallagher, who quickly invited him to exhibit there.

“I’m at Job Corp, and they put you in different areas (to learn a trade). When I went on break, I was exploring downtown, looking for a place that showed other photographers’ work. I just came across the art gallery,” he said.

“It took me about five tries to catch her at the right time, but I showed her my gallery and she really liked it. She said, ‘Let’s book you a show,’ which was so cool. It just feels really good.”

The show will be on display at the gallery through Aug. 31. But Riley is already looking ahead. He hopes to one day upgrade to a classic camera and take his craft to the next level.

“I’d love to have a camera. It’s all I want. I have so many ideas in my head ... and I would love to do this as a career. My dream job would be to work for National Geographic,” he said.

“I’ve dedicated so much time to this, and I love it so much. I want to strive for greatness. It may have been something tragic that happened, but it made me find my passion for photography. I think it was something that was just meant for me.”

Coastal People appears Mondays. Contact Lindsey Adkison at ladkison@thebrunswicknews.com or at 265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.

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