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Photographer, 9, works her way to dream subject — President Obama

Madison Harrison, a 9-year-old photographer from Spring Hill, focuses in Plant Park at the University of Tampa recently. Madison first picked up a camera when she was 3, and in her short career has photographed fashion shows and weddings.
Published Jul. 11, 2016

SPRING HILL

Madison Harrison stood on a white step stool so she could see over dozens of other photographers vying for the perfect shot of President Barack Obama.

A third-grade student from Spring Hill, Madison got to this spot at a White House-sponsored women's summit by mounting a successful social media campaign — #Help MadisonMeetPOTUS.

"I wanted to photograph the president because, well, he's the president," she said. "I couldn't believe I was really there. It was so cool."

Organizers of last month's United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., had learned about Madison's campaign through social media. Knowing Obama would attend, they sent her a private message inviting her to apply for press credentials. She was accepted.

But there was more than a hashtag behind Madison's dream shoot.

At just 9 years old, she operates her own photography business, boasting a portfolio that started with dolls, moved on to brides, and now includes the president and the first lady.

It all started when she picked up a camera at her third birthday party.

Her parents didn't take her hobby too seriously or even encourage her to keep going. They just thought it was cute.

"She's always been creative and perceptive," said her mother, Andrea Harrison, who owns her own business but also helps manage Madison's. Her dad, Gordon Harrison, works in communications. "When she photographs someone, she's really in her element."

Madison honed her skills with practice, snapping photos of her American Girl dolls on park benches during a vacation in Manhattan and attending photo safaris with photographers back home who showed her the ropes.

A fan of Judy Blume books, architecture, and the history of steamships, Madison is an honor roll student who also loves to play tennis, the violin and piano.

When it comes to photography, she is no longer a hobbyist. Once she unpacks her high-resolution Nikon D5300 — retailing for around $600 — and puts on what she calls her "photographer boots,'' she's all business.

On a recent photo shoot at Plant Park near the University of Tampa, she stopped again and again, capturing sunlight on an orange flower at one point, and at another freezing the image of a lizard before it darted away.

She's the go-to photographer for family gatherings and people hire her for weddings and portraits. Some of her work is paid, but a lot is done for charity.

"I feel like a professional," Madison said. "I know that the people I take pictures of will do something big, and I can say I took their picture."

A month after photographing the president, Madison still carries around her blue and yellow press passes from the event. She'll eventually stash them in her "entrepreneur box."

"To her it was something so huge, almost impossible to accomplish," Andrea Harrison said. "She wanted to prove a 9-year-old was capable of photographing the president."

Thousands of women and hundreds of members of the media packed the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the United State of Women Summit. They gathered to take on gender equality issues "and make a powerful difference in our collective future."

Madison also snapped photos of Oprah Winfrey and Vice President Joe Biden and met representatives from Twitter, Tumblr and the online community "Amy Poehler's Smart Girls."

"It felt so good and they inspired me to help other girls," Madison said. "I want to do my part so that girls everywhere can follow their dreams."

Her contributions also extend to gathering dresses for children in foster care and collecting donations for the cause, "End 68 Hours of Hunger in Tampa."

She sees herself as an activist as well as a photographer and entrepreneur. She hopes some day to study at Harvard and research a cure for cancer.

"I want to inspire other children to believe that their dreams can come true," she said. "I want them to know they're never too young to accomplish big things."

Meantime, her next goal seems a simple one for the girl who got to the president.

"I want to be a red carpet photographer at the Oscars. I'd love to photograph Leonardo DiCaprio."

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3408.

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