While spoken and sign languages create foreign barriers between cultures, the language of photography is universal.
Here are a few deaf photographers are using that language to articulate a story through their lens.
Bruno Braquehais was born in Dieppe, France in 1823. Although records don’t state how he lost his hearing, Braquehais was deaf from a young age. When he was nine years old, he started at the Royal Institute of the Deaf and Mute in Paris. He later found work as a lithographer.
Braquehais’ connection with his father-in-law, who was a daguerrotypist, motivated his career shift into photography. Daguerrotype was the first photographic process. Braquehais began producing artistic photographs with nude subjects. These were hugely successful and used as a study aid by painters. He began selling his work. He also inherited his father-in-law’s daguerreotype portrait studio after his death, which he continued to run.
Based in California, Clare Cassidy‘s passion for photography started as a little girl. She got lost in the pages of National Geographic and fantasized about when she could take such photos. Born deaf, she communicates using ASL. She has an identical twin sister who is also deaf. Her three sons are also deaf.
After college, Cassidy minored in photojournalism, which she excelled in. She graduated with a Masters in Secondary Education. She currently teaches visual journalism while running her photography business on the side.
Cassidy has been outspoken in her deaf advocacy on social media and is known for using her photography projects to raise awareness. Her project “Roar from the heart,” inspired by her feelings of devastation after the 2016 U.S. election, donated all profits raised to the Deaf Women of Color organization.
As Cassidy writes on her website, “My being deaf actually gives me the advantage to have a better eye when taking photos. I am not distracted by noises and am more attuned to body languages. Hence, my subjects’ personalities are genuinely portrayed in their photos and real moments in between the nothing are captured.”
“My being deaf actually gives me the advantage to have a better eye when taking photos.”
Her content relies on capturing humanity in its natural state over posed shots. Her extensive gallery involves a lot of maternity, birth and newborn material. However, she often steps into other areas, such as lifestyle and weddings.
She also works for Finding Meraki, an online platform that offers captioned photography workshops by deaf teachers with years of experience. Cassidy offers four separate classes. They include teaching how to use photography as a way to deliver emotive storytelling.
Jaime Del Pizzo
She studied film production and communications in New Hampshire, where she was given the opportunity to spend a semester in New Zealand. Since then, she has spent time in Wyoming where she worked on a ranch and saved up for her Canon camera. With it, she journeyed through Puerto Rico, Colorado, and Alaska, snapping all the way and and honing her craft. She then settled in Bellingham, went freelance and started her own website. A range of photography services is offered. She recently entered a creative collaboration with another photographer and started Higher Ground Visuals. It’s a content creation business that offers services in photography, videography, and graphic design.
An avid adventurer and self-proclaimed nomad, Del Pizzo’s love for the wilder side of life is reflected in her photography. She produces high quality prints of snowy mountain peaks and incredible night shoots where she captures the bright lights of the Milky Way, an act she describes as “connecting her soul to the universe.”
The photographs she posts on Instagram are often accompanied by descriptive language that beautifully encapsulate the deaf experience. When addressing the unrealistic beauty standards that society often holds us to, she had this to say: “This is something that drives me in my work. I feel that in a sense, I hold this profound power or responsibility to reverse what society is telling people and really, truly show people how beautiful they are, inside and out. I really strive to use this medium to try and smush a snippet of the energy & the soul of a human into a 2D representation that is just buuuuursting at the seams of this mere rectangle.”
Del Pizzo also shares the difficulties that arise as a deaf person living an active life and the barriers she faces. In a blog post a couple of years ago, she said because of her deafness she gets to see the world in a way that most won’t experience.