Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Everything Is Blurry: Photographing Deaf People in Japan

What do all the photos in this post have in common? At least part of the picture is blurry. And why? The Japanese people pictured here are deaf. That means part of their body is being used to communicate while I was attempting to photograph them. Japanese Sign Language entails more than movements of hands and arms - it uses the entire body. In the photo above, I was attempting to take a photo of the young woman when at the last minute the man stuck his face in the foreground. He was very amused at the effect. Coincidently, he is a photographer...

I was attempting a portrait in this second shot as well as the subject is very colorful. However people walk in front of the camera, again at the last minute, fingers, hands and arms moving in active conversation.

The setting of the first three photos was a sign language workshop in Hirakata-shi given by two deaf people from Yamagata Prefecture. One of the activities was a modified version of jan-ken, or rock-scissors-paper. This was a very fun and animated game. The loser of the jan-ken match had to make a JSL sign using the handshape of either rock, scissors or paper (depending on which handshape they threw). If they were able to do a sign within a few seconds, they could continue in the match.

This last shot I took two weeks ago at an Okinawan izakaya in Osaka. Again, I was with a deaf group. One of the participants is a professional wrestler. He is the only deaf wrestler in his organization. I asked how he communicated with others during matches and he replied that he uses gestures and body language. I suspect he can vocalize to some extent as well. I also imagine he is a better communicator than most professional wrestlers, but of course this is my own bias... Anyway, he was promoting his upcoming matches and so had his mask with him. In this shot, he is pictured "wrestling" with Momo-chan, the tiny dog belonging to the master of the izakaya. Due to the continuing pet boom, these little creatures are almost everywhere.

Since he is promoting his show, I think it is OK to reveal his name: エロ桜馬, which can be translated as Erotic Cherry Horse. For more information (and tickets), see the link below (in Japanese). Apparently deaf people can get discounted tickets.

Link to Japanese professional wrestling website

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