Awards support Oliver’s photography dream

Published: June 20, 2022

Oliver Stewart, 2021 Prime Minister’s Oranga Tamariki Award recipient and aspiring photographer, wants to use his experiences to help others.

Oliver Stewart photo
Oliver Stewart received a Spark Te Rakahinonga Auaha Creative Entrepreneur Award as part of the 2021 Prime Minister’s Oranga Tamariki Awards.

Oliver Stewart’s not one to make a big fuss about his achievements. In fact, when he recently won the Prime Minister’s award he barely stopped to celebrate. Now he is on a mission to use his experiences to help others.

Seventeen-year-old Kamo High School prefect Oliver was awarded the Spark Te Rakahinonga Auaha Creative Entrepreneur Award as part of the 2021 Prime Minister’s Oranga Tamariki Awards.

Supporting rainbow youth

He’s proud of the fact he’s the school’s first transgender prefect, and hopes it inspires other members of the rainbow community at his school.

Removing stigma and supporting transgender youth was also the motivation behind his award-winning photography portfolio submitted as part of the Prime Minister’s Awards.

“When I got the call from my social worker saying I had won, I was in shock. I wasn’t really expecting to win because photography is just a passion of mine, so to be recognised with a national award for your passion is pretty surreal, and my birth family were really proud of me,” he says.

A keen photographer, Oliver’s entry included a self-portrait portfolio. 

“The main focus of my portfolio was on being transgender, I am very open about my gender and mental health journey and I wanted to raise awareness.

“It’s quite difficult from a mental health perspective dealing with the judgment that trans-people can face, it’s not really talked about, so I wanted my entry to shine a light on that and show that being trans is not a negative thing,” he says.

Photography passion

His passion for photography began at aged 10.

“I had a little tiny camera when I was 10 and I used to make stop motion movies with my lego, but it wasn’t until lockdown in 2020 when I got my first digital camera that it grew from. At my foster home they had a massive garden filled with roses and different trees, so I’d take photos of nature around me, and the birds and the family cat.

“I just love photography, it’s a way where I can express myself using such a powerful medium. You can just get so much from an image, and you can tell so much of a story using lighting alone,” he says.

Oliver’s got his own photography business and plans to go to university in Wellington to study towards a bachelor’s degree in design innovation, majoring in media studies and minoring in photography.

He used some of his prize money to purchase a new camera in support of his future plans.

“I recently invested in a Canon Powershoot camera, it’s a really small one buts it’s my fave. Even though it’s so small the quality of it, wow, it’s just so good you can zoom in on something that’s ages away and get such a clear photo,” he says.

Oliver photos
Oliver is pursuing photography passions and used part of his Award to purchase a new camera.

Leadership and advocacy

The goal is to become a fulltime photographer, but when he’s not behind the camera he’s carrying out multiple leadership roles at school. His prefect role looks after the wellness portfolio, and he also runs a support group for the rainbow community at school.

“It’s a really big deal for me to look after this support group and I’ve got plans to advertise it better within our school. But at the moment, it’s a space where a small group of people from the rainbow community, and their friends can get together and it’s a safe place within school,” he says.

“Kids can come and talk to us about advice around coming out, if they are experiencing bullying we can help, and we share stories about coming out too.”

He is passionate about supporting other young people and hopes his story might inspire others.

“I guess the main reason I’m wanting to share my stories is that no matter what you’ve been through you can come out in a positive way in a better light,” he says.

“With all the stuff I’ve been through in life and foster care, maybe a lot of people might not have expected much of me, but this shows I am capable of anything.”