Focus on Oliver Hellowell: Photographer with Down's syndrome

I am very excited and proud to present an interview with the supremely talented photographer Oliver Hellowell

Photo courtesy of Oliver Hellowell

At nearly 18, Oliver is already carving a reputation for himself as a respected wildlife and landscape photographer. The Oliver Hellowell website showcases his unique work which is available for sale. Oliver also has Down's syndrome.

Oliver's Mum, Wendy, is the CEO of support group Ups and Downs Southwest, and  she gives us some extra information in brackets, allowing us a precious insight into their lives.

          "Oliver provides his own unique 
and wonderful perspective on the world 
and we are all so very much the richer 
for his being here."

Can you describe yourself in 3 words Oliver?

Cool, Muscley, ‘Extreme Oliver’- I eat food because I really enjoy it, and I like fishing.

Tell us about your family and friends

My friends are, Colin, Hammy, Liam, Matt, Zach, Tom Powell, Jamie, Josh, and Briar. 
(For your information, Zach, Tom and Jamie all have DS too and come to our Ups and Downs SW youth club, Briar has cerebral Palsy, comes to youth club and Ollie and she have known each other since they were very small. Hammy  is Hamilton, boyfriend to Anna, Oliver’s big sister.)

My mum is my mum, she is beautiful and gorgeous and I love her. Mike is my stepfather but he is my father really
(This has been a recent development – Oliver has started referring to Mike as his father. Oliver’s biological father left when Oliver was 6, and after seeing him on and off for about a year, decided he no longer wished to have contact (His loss obviously!) and so Oliver hasn’t seen him for many years. Mike came on the scene when Oliver was about 9yrs old and they were best mates instantly- even sharing the same interests and hobbies – Very lucky we are! ) 

Anna is my best sister, she is 25 and I call her ‘Babes’. (He only has one sister!)

Hammy is Anna’s boyfriend and he’s got a dog called Bo. 
I do love Liam and Kerry and I like Simon too (these are Mike’s three grown up children) and I like it when the girls come to stay 
(Kerry is married with two daughters Leila and Maisy – both of whom completely adore Oliver)

Tell us about a typical day in the life of Oliver

(Oliver wakes and gets himself organised, makes his bed and comes downstairs. He would have egg and bacon for breakfast every morning if he was allowed to but he isn’t!  He likes to play snooker on his snooker table in the conservatory, as well as football and basketball outside in the back garden. He likes to know if there are any orders for prints from his website, if he has to go and do some posting with Mike, and if there are any other jobs to be done.
Every week there will be a couple of days, depending on the weather, when he will go out to take photographs, often to the RSPB reserve not far from our home or up to Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust north of Bristol.

One day a week he always goes for a day’s fishing with Mike and spends the day doing some actual fishing, some sitting in his bivvy with his packed lunch, his wildlife and bird books and Top Gear magazines and his Nintendo DS, and much wandering around the fisheries with his camera taking pictures and also chatting to other people fishing. Oliver is now quite well known to several fisheries in Somerset – his favourite being ‘The Sedges’ where the owners have made him feel particularly welcome. He also enjoys going to the ‘tackle shop’ to get bait etc the day before, he again chats with all the staff and regulars, invariably emerging with a free DVD!

Oliver often goes out with Hamilton, his sister’s boyfriend and takes ‘Bo’ for a walk, sometimes going back to Hamilton’s flat and enjoying bacon sandwiches and watching football! At weekends we try to always go out somewhere and frequently pop over to Wales as Oliver particularly loves wandering around castles (only if they are ruins though) or going for walks where there are rivers and waterfalls to explore – always taking a camera obviously – oh and a picnic of course!  Oliver really does lead a very interesting life, his room is full of books (over 350) and magazines (over 200) and he is never ever bored. He is taking a break from college at the moment but is looking to try a course which includes motor vehicle maintenance starting in March.)

When did you first use a camera? 

         When I met Mike.

    How did you become a photographer?

    When I did GCSE photography Mike told me all about it and I learned about all photographers and about the ‘settings’ you use and taking really good sharp pictures.

(Mike, Oliver’s stepfather, came into Oliver’s life when Oliver was about 9 years old – Mike is a photographer and Oliver was fascinated by Mike’s big cameras and lenses and wanted to be able to take pictures ‘Like Mike’. Mike has been a best mate and father all rolled into one for Oliver, and his targeted and patient, tuition and guidance, enabled Oliver to learn at his own pace and  enjoy  increasing confidence and ability, to the point where he was really able to develop his own style and utilise the world of photography as both a tool for him to record what he sees in the way he sees it, and also as something which brings him a great sense of achievement and self esteem.)

What type of photography do you prefer? What inspires you?

I’m different from other photographers I like the framing and the composition, and having the camera on the ground looking up. I don’t do people, I do landscape and wildlife, especially birds. I like Bence Matte, Ben Hall and Andy Rouse – they’re amazing.” 
(You have to be into wildlife photography to know who they are!)

   What would you like to be doing in a year’s time?

Oooh we want to go across America don’t we mum – all across and take pictures of the animals and the birds and the landscape - that would be amazing. I can meet all my fans as well. 
(We have a bit of a dream – and that is to take a 6 week road trip across the USA with a massive       Winnebago, taking photos as we go and meeting some of the thousands of fans Oliver has all over       America! We receive messages daily from parents who have children with DS and who are        inspired and encouraged by Oliver’s talent and achievement.)

  (A little question from Natty) What's your favourite kind of cake?

     Chocolate – just plain though – no fancy bits on top!

Thank you to Oliver and Wendy for this wonderful, inspiring interview. 
Funnily enough, I know someone who would eat bacon and egg for breakfast every day too, but she wouldn't be impressed by cake without sprinkles or icing! - H x

You can follow Oliver's progress and see more of his work on his 

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