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Meli Berends

Bachelor of Applied Visual Imaging Student

Meli Berends

UCOL Applied Visual Imaging student Meli Berends began to pursue photography after deciding life is short and you should do what you love.

After a breast cancer diagnosis in 2009 at the age of 33, Meli wanted to use photography as a medium to create awareness about issues and she is now well on the way to doing so.

The Palmerston North-based student is in her third year of the Bachelor of Applied Visual Imaging, and was awarded Silver with Distinction, and Bronze, for the two images she entered - and the overall title of Student of the Year – at the 2016 Epson/NZIPP Iris Professional Photography Awards.

As a photographer Meli is passionate about photography with a strong social commentary to create discussion. One of her 2016 winning images, black and white, is part of a series she is creating about children growing up too fast. The other, a triptych, is a series of self-portraits telling part of her own life story – a battle with breast cancer. 

Reflecting on entering into the Epson/NZIPP professional photography competition, Meli says it was a great opportunity. “I entered to have my work judged by professional photographers. Having your work judged by a panel of five is rather nerve wracking and of course it is subjective but as a student I was able to learn from them.”  

“I’m still blown away but I’m beginning to recognise the level of work I am able to create. As a mature student going to class with some young, really talented people, I’m often double checking things with the Lecturers but this has done a huge amount for my confidence. I still make lots of mistakes but I put a lot of thought into things and I work really hard. Photography has always been something I loved and although I’ve had to work hard, it’s paid off.” 

After moving to Palmerston North from Christchurch to study at UCOL, Meli is now nearing the end of her third year of the degree. 

For her final year project she has created a piece of work which celebrates unity within diversity, welcoming the viewer to look deeper. “Each participant within the project has a story of their own to share and regardless of their story the message is simple: ‘I am more than just…’

“For me, photography is a tool that can be used to highlight, help, create awareness, and celebrate. This has been a project very close to my heart as I also feel that even though my own breast cancer journey has been life changing I don't want for it to define me.”

After graduating, Meli intends to specialise in birth photography.

“Being able to capture the moments and emotions between the expectant parents and their support people is so special to me. Your baby will be born once, that moment will never come again; memories of the birth can be very clouded and seeing the images is a great way to remember forgotten moments. It’s not all about the crowning but the effort and love to bring them into the world and that first precious meet. There is so much love and emotion, it’s wonderful.” 


Based in Raglan, New Zealand, Mahli Berends Photography specialises in birth, portrait and event photography. 

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