“My life has got a lot better since I picked up a camera.” - How photography gave focus to this Sheffield man who suffered brain injury in horrific crash

“My life has got a lot better since I picked up a camera.”
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This is Robert Dinwoodie, who takes brilliant photographs which have given him the strength to carry on when many would have wilted.

He was 18 when a horrific car crash changed his life. His story has never been told and without photography we might not be able to share it. It has opened a world where he feels comfortable.

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That seemed impossible when Robert suffered a terrible brain injury in the crash and while in hospital his family was told he may not make it. “I was in a car with two friends after a night out and that’s the last thing I can remember,” he says.

Ladybower by Robert DinwoodieLadybower by Robert Dinwoodie
Ladybower by Robert Dinwoodie

Robert was a backseat passenger in a car which was on Rustlings Road as it was snowing. The car hit a speed bump and took off, hitting a tree, going through the railings and into Endcliffe Park. One friend got out, Robert and another friend were left unconscious.

He was taken to Leeds General Infirmary and can remember nothing of it. His dad Ian will never forget. It was March 2006.

“The Star reported he was fighting for life after being transferred from the specialist neurology department at Leeds General Infirmary” says Ian. “The family were told by the doctors that ‘they were not sure if he would make it.’

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“Miraculously following a lengthy period in intensive care where a surgeon relieved the pressure on his brain, and then in a high dependency unit, Robert was transferred to the Hallamshire where he underwent reconstructive surgery to his skull, eye sockets, nose and jaw. Thankfully he was making progress.”

Robert DinwoodieRobert Dinwoodie
Robert Dinwoodie

This is where Robert starts to remember things. “I remember being in the Hallamshire, looking out of the window and seeing people skiing at Parkwood Springs.

“When I first came round I was in a different world, but I do remember people skiing.

“I was knocked up. I could move but I had to be walked round because my legs had seized up, my fingers and toes were curled up.

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“People would come in asking me my name and age every few hours.”

After the crash, Robert had surgery and 90 staples were put in his headAfter the crash, Robert had surgery and 90 staples were put in his head
After the crash, Robert had surgery and 90 staples were put in his head

He was moved to the Northern General to a specialist unit. “I just wanted to get out. Everyone else was in a really bad state.

“I was lucky enough to be a lot better, to make a better recovery. I felt I shouldn’t be there. People couldn’t walk, but within a few weeks of walking round I was better.”

Ian adds: “The final stage of the nightmare was a stay in a rehabilitation unit in Osborne3 at the Northern General.

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“Robert was helped to try and get back into some sort of routine and situation where life was a little bit more normal for him. Robert had to learn to fend for himself again and it wasn’t easy.”

Robert Dinwoodie at one with natureRobert Dinwoodie at one with nature
Robert Dinwoodie at one with nature

So after three months in hospital, he was allowed home. “I was really happy. I remember doing a trial run before I was allowed home and we went to Meadowhall.

“I had 90 staples in my head and massive scars. Everyone was just staring at me and I didn’t like it, I just wanted to go home.”

His friends were out drinking and enjoying being teenagers. He couldn’t. “One pint would destroy me so I just cut that out. I couldn’t go on holiday. It was the worst time for this to happen but also the best because I was at an age where I could recover.”

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So what could he do? His dad had bought a camera as a retirement hobby and Robert found it interesting.

“I was messing about with it and thought I should start having a go. We got into competition with each other and I still sometimes steal his camera!”

He’s now living independently which took him three years to do and is driving. “I don’t like travelling with passengers because I don’t want anything bad to happen.”

Animals are important to Robert DinwoodieAnimals are important to Robert Dinwoodie
Animals are important to Robert Dinwoodie

He’s not in touch with the other two friends in the crash. He says they have recovered and have careers. Robert would like to make photography his.

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“The camera really helped me. It’s something I can carry round and keep steady, I can do it all myself.”

He likes going to Redmires, taking pictures of the wildlife and two years of his work are now on his Instagram account @rob.dinwoodie which has 1230 followers.

He has also featured countless times on The Star’s letters page and is on the UK Through The Lens Facebook group for sharing UK landscape and outdoor photographs.

“I’m hopeful I can do something with my images. I’d love to make a living out of it. I just love being able to go out, be away from people.

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“Lockdown really helped me. I’d been doing photography and keeping myself to myself, so lockdown just moulded in. It was easier for me because I had something to focus on, my goals for the week.”

He loves photographing wildlife. “Animals are important to me, going out and trying to capture them on camera. It has really calmed me down, before I had nights where I couldn’t sleep, I was so stressed, I was spinning round in bed. Once I got a camera and a focus, all that stopped.

“I don’t take any medication now. I sleep properly, the key is tiring myself out and I do that with photography.

“I’d like to make photography work. It will take ages, I know, but if people like my images that’s a bonus. I’ll keep cracking on.”

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Now 33, Robert lives in Nether Edge and has been in Sheffield since he was three.

He went to Ecclesall junior school and High Storrs before leaving to do horticulture at Sheaf Training in Pitsmoor. Then the crash happened.

Ian says: “The photography has changed his life and given him something positive and therapeutic to focus on.

“We are incredibly proud of how far he has come, his sheer determination, patience, and beautiful photography and will continue to support him as always.

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“Constant fatigue and short term memory loss make it difficult to cope with everyday life. Robert has found a saving grace in his love of photography.

“He has found something that is helping him every day and is an environment where he does not have to face and manage all of the problems his brain injury left him with.

“Photography is a fantastic way of doing something he really loves without any pressure from the things he finds difficult. He has a real talent for capturing something special in his pictures.

“He initially learned with me doing wildlife but then moved to a more creative style where landscapes, nature and wildlife are used to create something artistic.

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“He finds it difficult to concentrate and gets frustrated with everyday issues but in photography has found something in which he has a definite natural talent and feels he is achieving something.

“His pictures are loved by friends and Instagram followers and he is hopeful of furthering his already many photographic talents with any support he can muster.”

Robert needs help setting up a website to showcase his work. Contact him via his Instagram account @rob.dinwoodie

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