One in six Australians experience some form of hearing loss, yet it is an issue rarely discussed. In this podcast I talk about it with photographer, Kate Disher-Quill. For anyone who is unable to listen there is also a transcript of the interview just below the Soundcloud window.
The images included are from Kate’s exhibition Right Hear, Right Now which profiled people who experience deafness or hearing loss. I hope you enjoy this interview however you take it.
In 2014 Kate Disher-Quill, was the recipient of a $10,000 grant for an emerging photographer from the Pool Collective. She used the money to create the exhibition Right Hear, Right Now which showed as part of the Head On Photo Festival earlier this year.
For the project Kate profiled people who experience deafness or hearing loss. She told their stories through photography, film and installation with the intention of breaking down barriers and opening up conversation about deafness and also trying to empower those who feel the need to hide a part of their identity.
Which is interesting because in fact Kate happens to be mild to moderately deaf herself but had never talked to another deaf person about her hearing loss until she began this project and we talk about this and her ongoing mission to help others with hearing loss to connect, communicate and be truly understood.
Now for a quick disclaimer – Kate is actually my niece and I’m immensely proud of her and immensely inspired by her and that is the reason why I interviewed her because I’m sure you will be inspired by her also.
Finally, for anyone who is unable to listen to this podcast there is a transcript of the interview and it will be provided at every point on the podcast page and my sites and social media so please do share it because it is for everybody. Ok. Let’s get on with this chat. Introducing: Kate Disher Quill. http://katedisherquill.com/
Kate: Over the past year, I’ve interviewed and photographed over 30 people who’ve experienced hearing loss or deafness in some way or another from a whole lot of ranges of hearing loss so people with mild to moderate hearing loss, people who’ve lost part of their hearing later in life, some who’ve been profoundly deaf since birth, some who use sign language, some have cochlear implants or hearing aids. So yeah, I really wanted to show the wide scope of a pretty complex theme, really.
Sharon: I found it interesting the parents of the profoundly deaf little girl. Did you have a favourite? Was there a favourite piece?
Kate: It’s funny because I guess I’ve got favourites in terms of the look, and then I’ve also got favourites in terms of the subject and their story. The ones that, for me, that I relate to the most are the two that they both had a similar hearing loss to myself. I think that’s why I related most with them because they both talked about how they didn’t like to wear hearing aids growing up. For both those … A girl and a guy who both talked about the insecurities of wearing hearing aids. For me, that was something that was quite difficult for me as a teenager and even as a young adult, this idea that people would judge me if they saw that I was wearing hearing aids. That somehow I’ll be less capable, or they wouldn’t know how to talk to me.
Sharon: It’s interesting because I hadn’t noticed you wearing a hearing aid and we’ve known each other for a long time now.
Kate: A lot of the time I didn’t wear them. That’s the thing. I’ve only sort of started openly wearing them in the past year doing this project.
Kate: I think, for me, when it became a significant I guess issue … It’s not so much that I thought or realised that I’ve experienced sound in a different way because I … I mean, I spent all my childhood going and having hearing tests. I didn’t really think anything of it.
It wasn’t until I was 10 and I got hearing aids. I was sort of at an age where I was old enough to understand what hearing aids were, but I was also too young to really be able to talk about how I felt about it. I kind of just bottled it up. To me, they represented these really ugly devices that I only associated with older people, and I sort of thought I didn’t need them because I could still hear without them. I guess you don’t really know what you’re missing out on, especially when you’re that young.
Sharon: That’s something in one of the stories the parents were wondering whether or not to put the implant into the child. Is that right?
Kate: Yeah. I guess a cochlear implant would be for children who are profoundly deaf. It’s also a big procedure because it’s a huge operation. You’re implanting something into your skull or to a baby or a child’s skull. There’s that debate of whether you can still have a full life even if you are deaf. There are still ways of communicating. There’s that debate that having a cochlear implant isn’t necessarily the only option that you can choose to not implant your child.
Sharon: How has your perception of the deaf community changed as a result of this project?
Kate: Well, I guess I didn’t even know before this project that there was a deaf community. I hadn’t met another deaf person.
Sharon: What do you mean you’ve never met?
Kate: I had never met another deaf person before I started this project.
Kate: I had never sat down and spoken to even someone with a hearing loss of my level of hearing loss. I mean, I quite likely could have met them without knowing, but I’ve never sat down and spoken to another deaf person about being deaf or shared my experiences.
Sharon: 27, wow.
Kate: That was part of the reason for kind of embarking on this journey. That I realised I think me not knowing another person who had experienced the same thing had greatly affected my view of it. Once I started the project, one of the first things I did was start learning sign language. That’s where I learned about the deaf community. That there was such a thing.
Sharon: I did see you using sign language the other day.
Kate: Yeah, I mean, I’m definitely not fluent but I’ve picked up a lot more just through meeting people in the project who only use Auslan, Australian sign language. I mean, I’ve learned a huge amount through this project.
What kind of was the catalyst for starting this project was that I read an article about another deaf girl who was 26 or maybe 27 and had become a photographer. It was the first time I had just read something and it just hit me. I was like, “This is me.” The exact things she was talking about, I knew exactly what it meant. It made me realise I had never talked to anyone about that and made me question why I’d never talked about it. It was this really powerful moment of realising that there was someone out there who had experienced the same thing. That’s what kind of made me want to do this project. I was like I want to be able to provide that for other people.
Sharon: Do you think people have in turn come in and experienced that for themselves?
Kate: Yeah, I had a couple of people contact me after the exhibition that had come in. One man who … I think he was in his late 40s came in and was noticeably touched by it and was kind of a little bit lost for words after looking at everything. He emailed me afterwards and just said how incredible it was to read all these stories that he related to. That everything up there, he understood. That he was sort of brought to tears afterwards because he finally realised that there were all these people out there that experienced the same thing and that he wasn’t … His behaviour wasn’t actually strange. It was completely normal for a deaf person.
Sharon: So there’s got to be more people out there. How are you going to get to them? What’s next?
Kate: When I first had the idea for the project, I definitely knew it needed to be more than just an exhibition and more than just photos on the wall because there’s only so many people who would be in Sydney that would hear about it at the time and could make it in that week. Basically, the best way for people to see something is online. The internet is such a powerful tool for reaching a much larger audience. The people from anywhere in the world would be able to find this project and to find these stories and be touched by it, to realise that there are people out there who are experiencing the same thing. I’m now in the process of developing a website.
I now have to really sit down and think about what I want it to be and how much work would be involved in how to sustain it and to keep it going and also what information and what to put out there because it is a photography project. It started off as photography and I wanted to keep going with that because having the visuals, to me that’s the best way to really touch on a subject and to engage people. I think there does need to be information and resources as well.
Sharon: Have organisations come in and say, “Hey, we love your stuff.”
Kate: I’ve had some hearing aid companies contact me as well as other hearing related organisations like cochlear. Yes, it’s sort of about building those connections now and building up a network of organisations and people that are keen to be involved because it’s not just me, I think. It’s much bigger. There’s all these people out there that are also trying to raise awareness about hearing loss and deafness. We all got a similar goal. We just have to somehow see the best way.
Sharon: Bring it together.
Kate: Bringing it together.
Sharon: Were all the subjects happy to be a part of the project? Did you find some that were like, “No, I don’t want to talk about this.”
Kate: I’m trying to think. That’s a good question. Some people did come to me, so that was obviously anyone who came directly contacted me. They contacted me because they wanted to be involved.
Sharon: What did you do? How did you get the word out?
Kate: It started off just with Facebook and putting up a sort of a status update that was asking anyone if they knew someone with hearing loss or who was deaf. From there, some people said a friend of a friend or someone they went to school with or their cousin. I got some people through Facebook and just word of mouth as I gradually just talked about it over the year. Someone would say that they know someone. I also contacted organisations and asking them if they knew … That they could put it out to their network and then people were having the option to contact me.
Sharon: Did people respond well?
Kate: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there were some people that weren’t necessarily aware of what exactly I was doing. When we got the chance to really sit down and talk about it and they were able to tell me their experiences and I was able to share my own that they found it a really valuable process just to be able to talk about it and talk about it with someone who understood. That was a really … It was quite important for me. The project made me realise it was worth doing and the people could benefit from it.
Sharon: Do you feel like this is a journey that you didn’t realise you were going to have? Now, you’re on it, it’s meant to be. Is that kind of how you feel about it?
Kate: Yeah, I think after the first … Probably the first month when I started meeting people and getting more involved, I actually realised, well, this is going to be big and this is actually … I realised it was going to be a huge journey for me. I realised that it wasn’t just going to end after this year and having the exhibition. That I knew it was going to become something bigger and that my world was going to change. I didn’t know where. In a way, I still don’t know where it would go because, in a way, it’s kind of just begun now that it’s already being seen by a whole lot of people.
Before, it was just me internalising this idea and producing work but not showing anyone. Now, a lot of people know about it. In that sense, it’s kind of the beginning. Now, we just have to see where it would go.
(Music to finish)