Photographer tells hearing loss stories through latest photo series
Photographer Dalton Stiles wants to show the unique experience of living with hearing loss through the power of photography in his latest project series “Can you hear me?”
Dalton’s inspiration to start this project stemmed from his own his own experiences having a mild to moderate bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.
His hearing loss story begins when he was born with a hearing loss, though it wasn’t discovered until he was six-years-old.
“I never seemed to have any problems with my hearing and spoke on time, without speech difficulties,” says Dalton. “But growing up I had so many ear infections and my parents noticed I was talking louder and starting to keep the volume up on the television when I wasn’t having an infection.”
Dalton’s parents eventually took him to see an audiologist and they did not find that he has a hearing loss. His mother took him to a second audiologist and then it was discovered that he did, in fact, have a hearing loss. His skilled lipreading made people think he could fully hear. At age six, Dalton was fit with his first pair of Phonak hearing aids.
“When I was asked what color I wanted them to be, I asked ‘do you have invisible?’” Dalton asked his audiologist. “I did not want to be any more different than other kids in my school.”
“When I was asked what color I wanted them to be, I asked ‘do you have invisible?’”
Despite not wanting to feel like the odd person out, Dalton was happy to hear new sounds with his hearing aids. He still remembers some of the first sounds he heard. He could hear a ceiling fan through a closed door in another room and the sound of rain pattering on the car roof. Hearing these new sounds changed Dalton’s life for the better.
Hearing loss also gave him a new way to connect with others.
“Although I felt like the weird kid with things in his ears, I always have made it a mission in my life to treat others with kindness and respect,” explains Dalton. “My struggles made me befriend the kids that were different because I knew what it was like to be. I see the beauty and good in people and want to show other people that too!”
“Although I felt like the weird kid with things in his ears, I always have made it a mission in my life to treat others with kindness and respect.”
The path to becoming a photographer
From an early age, Dalton was interested in the arts including drawing and painting. These skills led to him receiving his first camera. From then on he kept practicing photography. He consistently improved his skills over eight years by teaching himself and taking photography classes in school. He now has an associates degree in Photography and a BFA in studio art with a concentration in photography.
His favorite type of photography is portrait photography.
“Portrait photography was my forte because capturing people and creating art together was something I truly valued,” Dalton describes. “I was always the one looking at old pictures of family, and my own childhood. I became attached to the value of a portrait and the people in them, and I couldn’t stay away. I know now that it was in a way, my calling.”
Can you hear me?
Recently, Dalton is currently working on his photo series project, “Can you hear me?” The project is a series of portraits of people living with hearing loss. The purpose is to show people what a unique experience it is to live with hearing loss. He asks each person he photographs to tell him about their hearing loss story, how their hearing loss affects them and how hearing aids have changed their everyday life. He asks them to choose a pose the deaf and hard of hearing community can relate to, such as cupping the hand to the ear.
“I aim to photograph people from all ages and walks of life, who share the same experiences I have with my own hearing loss, and share their story as well. Because I believe that being seen is just as valuable as being heard.”
“Because I believe that being seen is just as valuable as being heard.”
The connection between the photographer and the sitter is strong. This is because they can both relate to each other on a very personal level because of hearing loss and the Phonak hearing aids they wear on their ears.
“The experience we share just makes it more impactful for everyone. From children to the elderly, to people working in the hearing loss community. I hope that the project will be seen by those who can relate to the subjects, and have positive reactions. I want to give the gift of a portrait to people who sometimes feel overlooked, seen and, excuse the pun, heard!”
Dalton also has advice for other aspiring deaf and hard of hearing photographers.
“Learn to love what makes you different and unique. Follow your passion, whatever it may be, and don’t view hearing loss as something that inhibits your ability to create and be someone to somebody. My lack of hearing made me even better at seeing, and I can see people in a way that everyone deserves to be seen in. Learn the trade and never forget that human connection is valuable. You don’t need to hear someone in order to see them. (metaphorically speaking of course!)”
Keep up with the photography series by following Dalton on Instagram.