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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

From rock band photography to physio degree

Published: 6 July 2023
Iona Bateman
Iona Bateman

One student’s tumultuous journey from rock star photography to trainee physiotherapist – with a hand disability sustained along the way – is told as part of a new exhibition at the University of Southampton.

Starting her working life in the fast lane, Iona Bateman toured the world with some of the biggest names in rock.

As a professional photographer, she captured iconic shots of the likes of Iggy Pop, The White Stripes, Foo Fighters and Green Day. It was a career that took off after a chance shot she took of the Stereophonics on a disposable camera in 1999 impressed the band and they used it on their website, paying her £150 – which she used to buy her first camera.

“It was a great job but a very hectic lifestyle,” she recalled. “I remember Iggy Pop told me at one stage I needed to calm down!”

Iona Bateman with Japanese band Electric Eel Shock
Iona Bateman with Japanese band Electric Eel Shock

Iggy Pop’s comment led Iona to shift her focus and she worked as a photographer and journalist in a Middle East for several years.

But, when she was working in Russia in 2010, a boxing injury that caused a permanent hand disability forced her to totally rethink her career.

Her injury was initially misdiagnosed as terminal bone cancer and she was told she had three months to live. By the time she returned to the UK and was correctly diagnosed with a benign wrist tumour, she was left with a permanent disability that prevents her from gripping or writing with her right hand.

Iona, 43, who lives in Bitterne Park, is now a mature student in her second year of a physiotherapy degree at the University of Southampton. She is also vice-chair of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy’s disability network.

“I am really keen to raise awareness that people with disabilities can work in healthcare,” she said. “I have faced discrimination and been told I can’t be a physio with my disability, but there are so many avenues you can go down in physiotherapy that disability isn’t a barrier.”

Iona has charted her journey from photographer to physio, and all the stumbling blocks she has faced along the way, in a short film that forms part of a new exhibition at the university. The film also pays tribute to her partner, Niroshan, who tragically passed away aged 41 from eye cancer during Iona’s first semester at university, on Christmas Day 2021.

“My short film, Moving Still, is a chaotic blend of my photographs and film clips amassed during the past 20 years, showing how the challenges we face can be transformed through resilience into opportunities for growth,” she explained. “Without experiencing adversity, I wouldn’t have achieved half the things I have done or be studying physiotherapy at the University of Southampton.”

Iona is one of nine students, all from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in higher education, who have created pieces and curated the exhibition, called Journeys of the Othered.

Emily Bastable, from the university’s students’ union, said: “This exhibition features the voices and stories of talented students who have persevered to achieve their dreams. Although they are a diverse group, their stories are connected by their talent and resilience.”

Journeys of the Othered is running at Turner Sims, on the university’s Highfield campus, until Saturday 22 July.

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