From the moment Natalie Stevanus picked up a camera, it was clear she had a gift.
It started when she was with her family at a cottage in the dead of winter, and the power went out.
“There was no hydro, the hydro went out, but thank goodness they had a generator,” recalls Stevanus’ mother, Linda. “So we were all sitting around at the fire just chatting because there wasn’t much to do. And what did you do?” she asks Natalie.
“Took pictures,” replies Natalie. Camera in hand, Natalie went out to photograph the winter wonderland around her.
When her parents discovered the photos Natalie had taken of the snow white cottage country, they immediately saw Natalie’s potential and suggested she take a course in photography. Natalie agreed, and she soon added photography to her incredible list of talents that have made her a role model for those like her with Down syndrome.
With a bright smile and warm, sunny personality, Natalie Stevanus is a joy to meet. She’s a figure skater, a fashion model and a keen shutterbug, and has a zest and exuberance for life that she’s been able to share with others. Through art, through motion and dance, and through her photography, which has earned her commendations on an international stage.
Stevanus was selected as a finalist at an international photography competition, My Perspective, which is organized by the Down’s Syndrome Association in the UK It’s the third year in a row Stevanus has made the cut, and she will be heading to London later this month to attend the award ceremonies in person.
“Natalie Stevanus, 35, captured the imagination of the judges for her shot entitled ‘Enchanted House’,” said the association in a release. “The ‘My Perspective’ photography competition is run by the Down’s Syndrome Association in the UK, and is open to people with Down’s Syndrome from across the world. This year entries came from as far away as Iran, U.S., Australia, Greece and India.”
The photograph, Enchanted House, was taken right here in the region, where Stevanus finds much of her inspiration. She loves landscape shots and nature, and that has made her a frequent companion of fellow photographer, friend and mentor Jane van Pelt.
“I think it is amazing. Absolutely amazing,” says van Pelt, of Stevanus’ photographer’s eye. The two have travelled all over the region and beyond, searching the back roads and less-travelled places for hidden beauty; later this month, van Pelt will be joining Stevanus for her trip to London.
“Natalie has a real joy for – how can I say? – for the unique. She sees things, and she appreciates them. She’ll look at something and think it’s beautiful, very quickly,” says van Pelt. “She has a discerning eye and she’s very interested in nature, and loves to get out and see what’s out there. And she thinks everything is beautiful. I love that.”
Besides her photography, Stevanus is also a gifted figure skater. “It’s wonderful. I like the dresses, competition,” says Stevanus of her skating.
In 2015, she competed at the Ontario Special Olympics in North Bay, where she skated to the theme from Titanic, Céline Dion’s My Heart Will Go On.
“I love that song,” says Stevanus.
“I remember in 2015, a lady came up to me … and said [Natalie] just made me cry,” recalls Linda. “You did it to Titanic. And you put so much into the music and your feelings that the lady said, ‘She made me cry. She just looked so beautiful on the ice.’”
Photography is now top of mind for Stevanus, however, as she prepares for the upcoming trip to London. She is especially excited about this year’s competition because of the addition of a new people’s choice award, where people can vote for their favourite submission.
Friends, family, and anyone else may vote for their choice photo through the online website, www.downs-syndrome.org.uk/for-people-with-downs-syndrome/my-perspective-2019. However, those interested in casting their vote on any of the 25 finalists will have to act quickly as the vote ends tomorrow (Friday).