Modelling With a Hearing Loss
By SafiaPixie, written 1488481514
Living with severe hearing loss comes with its challenges at the best of times, and can stop you from pursuing particular hobbies or careers. I found this to be true when I became a freelance model in the summer of 2016, facing problems I had never considered before.
I was diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss of unknown cause when I was 11 years old, although we suspect it has been present since birth. Having always considered my right ear the "stronger ear", much like one has a stronger, writing hand, it was little surprise when subsequent hearing tests revealed a 24% loss in my right ear and an 86% loss in my left.
By 2016 I had been wearing my hearing aids for five years, and so had found ways of dealing with the issues that had arisen over time. Moving into modelling was completely unprecedented, and as such, gave rise to new situations and new problems to solve. Below I have put together some of those situations and the solutions I have found most effective... I hope they are of some use to you, photographers, models, and aspirants alike!
Working on location makes for some incredible images. Inevitably, though, unique locations and conditions can cause some unique problems. Pictured above are images taken and edited by the incredible David Huggett (rushing water) and Maisie Coulbert (distance). Although the final shots are stunning, it's worth noting that communication during the shoot was difficult.
On location, all sorts of factors could affect your ability to hear, whether you are deaf or not: noisy traffic, distance from one another, harsh winds, background music, or even other people. To make life easier, you could try the following:
Speak to the creatives before shooting about the final image and the 'look' that you're aiming for. Any direction of poses etc. should be discussed at this point, and it might even be worth devising a type of sign language to use when on location- e.g. 'look into the lens', 'fix your hair', or 'we're done'.
Agree on a signal that means 'stop' before shooting. Hopefully, this would never have to be used, but is a pretty good precaution.
Even when working in a controlled studio, communication can be an issue. The above image was shot by the very talented Russ Kemp. Not only is Russ a wonderful photographer, but a truly considerate gentleman, too! At the shoot, we were accompanied by a lovely man learning BSL, whom Russ had invited in order to improve communication between us and allow his friend to practice sign language. This was an incredibly thoughtful thing for Russ to do, but do remember that not all photographers have these resources... or, indeed, know how to effectively communicate with a hearing impaired person!
Make your colleagues aware of your hearing loss before you shoot! It would be helpful to make your impairment clear on any platforms you use, e.g. Facebook, to avoid any confusion. Of course, only do so if you feel comfortable.
State your preferred method/s of communication: I, for example, would prefer to email or text pre-shoot rather than call, and rely on lip-reading during the shoot.
Do not be afraid to ask if you mishear! There is no shame in asking somebody to repeat what they said. You may feel as though you are annoying them, but they would likely be more annoyed if you didn't.
If (like me) you rely on lip-reading to hear, it might be useful to know that obstructions to the face (whether yours or the photographer's) can occur, making lip-reading difficult. Above are some images illustrating when this issue can arise. It is worth discussing your aims for the images and receiving any direction before shooting, as you may be unable to hear any direction without losing your pose during the shoot itself.
Equipment: professional cameras are often large and bulky- when held to the photographer's face, their mouth can be hidden. Equally, hiding behind large reflectors and softboxes can make lip-reading difficult. In these situations, ensure you have an idea of what you are required to do, and don't be afraid to ask for phrases to be repeated.
Props: as demonstrated by the glass, photographed and edited by Anete Lusina. It may be necessary to use props in a shoot, and they may obscure your view (depending on how they are used, of course!)
Facing away: photographed and edited by Geoff Powell. Fairly self explanatory, in that certain poses will have you facing away from the photographer, making lip-reading impossible, unless you have eyes on the back of your head!
Lighting: photographed and edited by Harriet Donovan. In poor light, it's very difficult to make out the shape of somebody's mouth, thus to lip-read effectively. Again, converse in good light prior to shooting to get best results.
When living with a disability, issues in everyday life will inevitably be encountered. By identifying areas of difficulty and devising mechanisms that help you to cope with your own struggles, you may come to learn that it is possible to compromise with disability, and in doing so, we are all capable of much more than we realise.