CNN Exclusive: Photos show Reeva Steenkamp’s transformation

Story highlights

Pictures show Reeva Steenkamp as aspiring model and established cover girl

Friend and photographer says early images show Steenkamp's "natural beauty"

Later picture shows Steenkamp's very personal tattoo, "Only God will judge me"

Steenkamp shot dead by boyfriend Oscar Pistorius; he says he mistook her for intruder

CNN  — 

Newly revealed photographs of Reeva Steenkamp show the South African beauty as a young aspiring model, and as a star cover girl, just months before her tragic death.

One group of images, taken by Reeva’s friend Kerry Smith eight years before her death, show the then 21-year-old law student and modeling wannabe posing on the beach at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where she grew up – and where her grieving parents scattered her ashes.

Her dark hair, freckles and innocent good looks are a world away from the shots of a bikini-clad Reeva featured in glossy magazines which millions around the world are now familiar with.

“That’s Reeva in her natural beauty,” Smith said. “Not a stitch of makeup on. Hair blowing in the wind with the sea behind her, sun setting behind her.”

That’s a view of the model shared by another photographer, Gareth Barclay, who took a series of pictures of Reeva in the months before her death.

These photos, said to have been commissioned by Steenkamp for an unidentified “special someone,” show a Reeva who is – outwardly at least – very different: Blonde, confident, worldly and polished.

“Most of the photos that I took of her aren’t even edited,” Barclay said. “That’s just how she is, you know.

“That’s just a simple color grading that I put on it to give an effect or a mood, but I mean, her skin was always great, beautiful eyes, beautiful features.”

Steenkamp, 29, died last year on February 14 – Valentine’s Day. She was shot dead in the bathroom of the home she shared with Olympic and Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius.

Pistorius insists her death was an accident, that he opened fire after mistaking her for an intruder. Prosecutors disagree: his murder trial starts on March 3.

His family said the loss of his girlfriend – and his involvement in her death – has devastated the athlete.

“It’s a terrible, terrible mistake he made,” his uncle Arnold Pistorius told CNN.

“I can just image the family of Reeva, the grief they’ve got and most probably anger, and you know this is a traumatic experience for them and I can’t even imagine myself being in that position.”

Another of Barclay’s pictures shows the tattoo on Reeva’s neck: The phrase “Only God will judge me,” written in Italian.

“It was very personal to her,” said Barclay. “She never really spoke about it or anything, she just wanted a personal photo of it, ‘cause, you know, she didn’t have any photos of it.”

For Steenkamp, this tattoo represented something central to her life, something to be defined by.

“That was something that her grandfather had always said, you know,” explained Smith. “It was very close to her own heart.”

Pistorius, though, will be judged in a Pretoria courtroom.

READ: Intimate photos show Oscar Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp before her death

READ: Who was Reeva Steenkamp?

READ: Who is ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorius?

CNN’s Bryony Jones contributed to this story.