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Photography student is recognised in international awards for work with charity

A photograph by a University of Gloucestershire postgraduate student to promote a charity that supported her after surgery to remove a brain tumour, has achieved international recognition.

Stefania Distante, who is studying a Master’s degree in Photography, was awarded an Honorable Mention in the highly prestigious International Photography Awards (IPA) 2023 for her portrait of her friend Charlie Bishop (shown below), who she met at Brain Tumour Support.

Charlie survived a brain tumour that had developed at an early age and was left with a scar on his head, which he wanted to show in a positive light.

Stefania, who has also had a life-changing brain tumour, photographed Charlie as part of a campaign she is actively involved in to raise awareness and funds for the charity, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

She developed an interest in photography during her own recovery after losing her job in the financial sector, and started the master’s programme when her daughter went to school.

Stefania said: “Charlie and I met via Brain Tumour Support many years ago and took part in a fundraising event together. We meet and chat often and during one of our meetings, he expressed a wish to turn his craniotomy scar into something empowering.

Charlie Bishop

“I contacted a few specialised make-up artists to ask them to offer their service for our project, and Panda Cooper, of Painted Peach, volunteered to help.

“Panda’s story is also linked to brain tumours as she decided to undertake her career as a make-up artist while caring for her father, who sadly passed away from a brain tumour.

“Charlie, Panda and I met in April 2023 at the University’s Photography studio and spent a wonderful afternoon chatting and laughing whilst making the work.”

Stefania became aware of Brain Tumour Support two years after having surgery to remove a brain tumour, which was diagnosed by her father, a now-retired doctor, just weeks before her wedding.

Stefania said: “I wish I had known about the charity at the time of my diagnosis and surgery, which was a time of turmoil and intense worry, and my life radically changed from then onwards.

“I have been left with some ‘collateral damage’ and I have had to make major adjustments to my lifestyle to maintain a good quality of life.

“When I attended my first support group hosted by Brain Tumour Support it was like finding a second home: a place of understanding, care, support and friendship.

“I am involved in a campaign to raise awareness and much-needed funds, which will enable them to support even more brain tumour patients and others affected.

“I photograph brain tumour patients or family members to reveal how the illness can affect any one of us at any stage of our lives.”

Appreciation of art

Stefania enrolled on the master’s degree programme at the University after teaching herself some photography during her recovery years.

Stefania said: “After losing my job in the financial sector, I was left with an unimaginable void, but through photography I found a creative side in me which never existed before.

“When my daughter went to school, I decided to study again and enrolled on the master’s degree programme in Photography at the University.

“I was at best a competent snapshot photographer when I joined the course. Thanks to the teachings, the constructive feedback, the guidance received, and my commitment to my studies, I have developed a deeper understanding and appreciation of art.

“I feel confident in saying I am an emerging artist and receiving the IPA’s Honourable Mention is a validating recognition.”

The founder and CEO of Brain Tumour Support, Tina Mitchell Skinner, said: “We are incredibly proud to have seen, and been part of, Stefania’s creative journey.

“She has admirably turned her own life-changing trauma to such a positive path. This single photograph has such meaning for how lives can come together from the most difficult of circumstances to bring inspiration and support to others.

“We are so grateful to Stefania for the support she’s giving Brain Tumour Support through her wonderful photography. Awareness of the impact of this devastating diagnosis, and the importance of specialist help for people affected, is essential for us to raise the much-needed funds to maintain our vital services.”

Main image: left to right, Panda Cooper, Charlie Bishop and Stefania Distante