Photography a focus after brain injury

By Sam Boyer

Last week Joel Dixon won three awards in the Bay of Plenty Student Photo competition.

Less than 12 months ago he was fighting for his life after suffering severe brain injuries.

In December last year Joel fell off his skateboard at Arataki Skatepark and hit his head, sustaining head injuries that have changed his life, affecting his concentration and giving him terrible headaches that have stopped him attending school full-time.

The 15-year-old Tauranga Boys' College Year-11 student is still now only able to attend three classes at school. If it wasn't for photography, he might not have the desire to return.

He credits the subject for keeping him in school even though he finds classes so physically draining.

"In class I can only work for like half the class and then can't really concentrate anymore. I couldn't cope full-time.

"Photography is something you actually enjoy.

"It's the only thing I've enjoyed," he said.

And his recent placings in the Bay-wide student photography competition show he has developed some real talent. He collected three prizes out of 118 entries.

For his big end-of-year class photography assignment, Joel has been snapping up a storm and thought he was well-placed to receive a good grade.

"I think I've done pretty well. [My teacher] said I had a merit and I'm just trying to bump it up to excellence.

"I wouldn't have a clue how many photos I've taken, probably into the thousands," he said.

Joel's December accident resulted in internal bleeding on his brain, a week-long stay in Starship Hospital following brain surgery, 48 staples in his head and half a week of total amnesia.

"I can't actually remember any of it. I can't remember the injury or two or three after. It's kind of weird, just two or three days of your life gone," he said.

Joel's mother Anna Dixon recalled the days that Joel lost and the terrible stress of nearly losing her son.

"They said it was very serious and he may not make it. They said you may want to say goodbye but I refused, I said I'd say hello when you wake up. Because he was bleeding in the brain it was pretty scary," she said.

"The story is he came off his board and he didn't have a helmet on. He hit the side of his head. It's just one of those things - that's why you wear helmets, but nobody does."

And the lasting effects of the injury continue to plague the 15-year-old.

"A whole range of things [are difficult]. Mainly fatigue, but I also find it hard to concentrate and get bad headaches and stuff.

"I miss just having the energy. I can't just go hang with my mates and see what happens. I kind of have to plan everything because I get so tired," he said.

But he said his recent photography success had surprised him because he didn't think he would have creative talents in arts subjects.

He was delighted to have won the exhibition prizes and also to have sold some pictures.

"I got second and third in the nature section and first in the sports. I was stoked as, especially for the money. I got $175," he said.

The prizes were $100 for first, $50 for second and $25 for third.

He also recently sold two pieces at a Tauranga Boys' exhibition. But the money isn't the only thing Joel likes about photography. It has become a real passion, he said.

"I think I could have it as a hobby for a long time," he said. "It's just something I really enjoy."

- Joel's winning photographs are on show at Baycourt as part of the Student Photo Exhibition until October 30.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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