Ashton Jean-Pierre

Age: 35
Professional Wedding Photographer
Deaf

 

I became Deaf at 18 months due to a side effect from the wrong treatment for pneumonia. I don’t remember the experience but my mother said I was extremely quiet and confused. I stopped wearing hearing aids when I was 13 as I could no longer hear with hearing aids at all.

I was born and raised in Bradford, UK, so my first language is British Sign Language (BSL) but I am also fluent in Auslan and American Sign Language. I started to use BSL when I was about two years old. My mother and I only communicate in BSL and when she asked if I wanted to speak when I was seven, I refused. So she decided that BSL should be my primary language and that is how I developed my Deaf identity. 

I am grateful for being Deaf. I have gained insight into sign languages, cultures and communities which help guide me through life. I also enjoy being a strong Black Deaf role model to Black Deaf young people in the UK and around the world. 

At 11 I moved (along with some other Deaf students) to a mainstream school with a beautiful communication support worker. But I will never forget one incident – my English teacher ripped up my story in front of a class of 20 plus smirking hearing students. Why? Because I didn’t understand all the English grammar rules. Of course I was humiliated, but because of this incident, it made me more determined and motivated to succeed. 

I became interested in photography when I was a teenager and at 17 my mother gave me my first 35mm camera. I did various jobs over the years and started using digital photography as film was quite expensive. However I started losing interest in it and in 2011 I decided to switch back to analogue photography and pursue a career as a fine art wedding photographer. 

I absolutely love being a wedding photographer. There’s so much emotion – happiness, laughter, sadness, tears, and it is so special to capture those emotions and the events which unfold on a wedding day. I also get to travel the world, experience new things and places, and I meet so many incredible people. There are of course challenges with being a wedding photographer. People can become quite stiff and nervous in front of the camera. This is for both deaf and hearing clients alike. So it is my job to make everyone relaxed, and to communicate with them until they feel at ease. 

When I’m at weddings, I’m always smiling. I try and not throw a lot of signs at people because I don’t want to overwhelm them. Instead I use a very gentle approach and visually direct my clients. It depends on the person, but if it’s appropriate, I softly touch them and guide them into various positions using gestures. I ask them to copy me I then demonstrate different poses and eye gazes that I’d like them to do. I use this approach regardless of whether they are deaf or hearing clients. The simple process of copying my gestures and my movements, is an easy way of communicating. 

I had many people telling me it would be too difficult to have a career as a photographer. I just ignored them and focused on the dream that I wanted to achieve. I find that the number one thing is to have drive and motivation, and then of course to have the support of family and friends. 

Having a good network around me has made a huge difference. When I was working in London, there were four or five deaf wedding photographers and we would all support each other. But I also had to be incredibly proactive. Being involved in the hearing world is not always easy because of communication barriers and some people’s views regarding deafness. It’s important to build networks with people who are more open-minded which in turn leads to beautiful and strong relationships. 

If you have a dream or a goal that you’d like to achieve, there’s always going to be negatives and there’s always going to be challenges. It’s really important to work through those challenges until you overcome them. Of course, it’s not going to be a quick process. Those challenges require a lot of patience, but doors will open.