See life as a D/deaf person –
through Isabella’s lens

Many of our final-year students use their graduation projects to showcase their skills by documenting highly personal stories. This year’s Grad Show entries were no exception – take BA (Hons) Photography student Isabella Giddins, who used her camera to speak to her audience about her Deafness. We caught up with her, to find out more.

02 Jul 2024

Hi Isabella! What made you want to become a photographer, and then choose UCA to study?
I started a photography course in my GCSE year, at my previous deaf secondary school, Mary Hare. I chose to be a photographer since I was interested in taking pictures of the world around me, and I thought it would be easier for me, since I have struggled with English. Photography has been my passion for a long time, and my escape to be in the world where I belong as a deaf person. Photography enables me to express my feelings and create memories.

What was the most surprising part of the course? What did you learn that you maybe weren't expecting?
I have thoroughly enjoyed studying photography at UCA, although I had not expected to hold an exhibition, midway through the course. However, this experience helped me learn to communicate with the public and, because of it, my anxiety and shyness have decreased. I now feel much more confident and a valued member of the team with new photography friends, and I have also made new connections, to enhance my work opportunities in the future.

With your final major project, what made you explore such a personal topic? Did that help the creative process or create issues?
I wanted to explore the world of Deafness, what it is like to be in the middle of two worlds, and how it feels to be merged into one. Deafness is a complex disability, and it is difficult to explain how people with different types of hearing loss and hearing aids, hear sounds. Online information cannot capture this. Even though sound differs for everyone, I wanted to convey the reality. As a deaf photographer, my ideas flowed easily into artistic expression, and I used videos to illustrate and educate people about the relationship between sound and deafness by using deaf models.

At this point, though, I realised that a key photographic element was missing, and it was not until I researched further, at City Lit, that I was able to develop my thoughts about the social and political history of deafness. From this point, my print was developed. The circle in ‘Deaf Power’ represents a deaf community’s power to acquire inclusive and equal rights. The photograph sends a political message, bringing shadows of discrimination into the light with a colourful message of hope and peace.

A girl with her fist raised silhouetted against a golden background
‘Deaf Power’ by Isabella Giddins

Have your family seen the final project? What did they think?
My parents saw the old video of my work in progress, displayed at City Lit. Afterwards, I don’t think they saw the final video, but they did see the ‘Deaf Power’ circle print from the video and pictures I sent them. Since they are coming to the graduation show, it will be their first time that they will see it in person. I am pretty sure they are very proud of me and the whole process, from start to finish, as I think they really like my work and are happy for me.

What are your career ambitions after graduation? What's the ideal job?
I would love to be a fashion photographer with disabled models; this would be my dream. However, if I am unable to achieve this, I would try to find work in a different area of photography, so that I can boost my skills and continue to improve, as I move through my photography career. At the moment, I am in the process of searching for a job in the photography industry.

How has your experience been at UCA as a deaf student? What advice would you have for anyone with hearing loss who is considering coming to UCA?
The past three years at university have been a journey of ups and downs, but it has mainly been fun and a great experience. It felt like I was in a different world, where I could be myself as a deaf person, able to explore my creativity. It was hard at first but, eventually, over time, I became independent, learned my course subject, and did not give up. I was determined to keep going.

My advice to a student with hearing loss, who might be considering a course with UCA, would be to try to get as much support as possible, and to take your time. Even though there will be challenges, the staff and your new friends can help you gain confidence to be yourself. If you find it hard to ask for help, try not to be shy and hide away. There will be people at UCA who will try their best to help you achieve good grades, which will give you opportunities for your future.

You can see Isabella's project in our online Grad Show. Find out more about the support UCA offers to students with disabilities or learning differences, or our BA (Hons) Photography degree.

A distorted colour portrait of a girl.
'Movement IV' by Isabella Giddins.