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Introduction

"there is no other place like this in the world."

    The first time I stepped foot on the emerald green astroturf of Hotchkiss Field I knew I was in a different world, one with an absence of whistles and the presence of an oversized, well worn bass drum. It’s mid-October 2015 and I’m at Gallaudet University to photograph a football practice. I’m a woman, and my experience with football up to this point has been relatively minimal, but I’m too curious about the team being Deaf to care about not understanding their plays. It’s an overwhelming moment to see more American Sign Language than hear spoken English, but I can feel vibrations from the drum being hit, and my ears ring if I stand too close.

    Gallaudet University is the only university designed specifically for the Deaf in the world. They favor a bilingual approach with American Sign Language as the primary and English as a secondary. There are just over 1000 undergraduates who study at Gallaudet, 90% of which identify as Deaf or Hard of Hearing.

    As I walk onto the turf, I’m approached by one of the coaches. He has the obvious broad-shouldered mark of a former football player, with long shaggy hair and a serious expression. He says hello then point-blank asks me in a slightly muffled voice,

“Are you a photographer? Do you know photoshop?”

I respond that yes, I do, and he continues, his serious facial expression unchanging,

“Do you want to photograph my wedding?”

It’s not quite what I expected to hear when I’m approaching a group of sweaty undergraduate athletes, but I agree that, yes I would be open to discussing it.

“Can you photoshop a smile on my face?”

His facial expression is static, his mouth barely opens when he speaks and his face is completely free from wrinkles or smile lines. I blink, raise my eyebrows and say yes, I might be able to make that happen.

“Great, I’ll let my fiancée know.”

This is how I met Shelby Bean and started working with the Gallaudet Bison.