THERE IS NO OTHER PLACE LIKE THIS IN THE WORLD
Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. is the most unique college in the world. With one step onto the emerald green Astroturf of Hotchkiss Field, this much is apparent. Football practice is about to begin and I haven't heard a single whistle, but my ears ring and my feet vibrate from the giant bass drum being pounded on the 50-yard line. This a Deaf school. It's a warm October evening in 2015 and I'm here to photograph a practice and learn a little about Deaf culture. The players finish lacing their cleats, put their helmets on and, with a few bangs of the drum, jog to the end zone for warm up.
Gallaudet University is the only university designed specifically for the Deaf in the world. It’s a bilingual-focused school; American Sign Language is the primary language on campus and English secondary. There are just over 1000 undergraduates who study at Gallaudet, 90 percent of whom identify as Deaf or Hard of Hearing (1).
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 as 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 remains unchanged, 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.