“Don’t call me Deaf” – interview with Anna Tomaka

We invite you to watch an interview with deaf photographer Anna Tomaka, author of the exhibition "Don't talk to me deaf".

[Margaret]: Good morning! Hi! Today my guest is Anna Tomaka -. photographer, author of the exhibition “Don’t call me Deaf”. Hi Anna! A very warm welcome to you! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.

[Anna]: Hi, thank you for inviting me.

[Margaret]: Please, tell me how did you start interesting in photography? How did you became the author of the exhibition?

The beginnings of photography

[Anna]: It started a few years ago I received a photography course as a gift from my husband At the photography school. This course took six months and I think, was so cleverly constructed or I caught the bug, That course turned into a three-year study of photography. And after that I already started to pull it and develop in that direction.

I could go on longer on this subject, but I will say this, during they locked us in our homes, the so-called hard lock down began, all open-air meetings, meetings were canceled, learned about on-liner photography workshops. This was a new challenge for me, because it was a workshop of documentary photography, I have never done something like this. I thought I wasn’t up to it. Well, but since we were locked up in houses, it’s possible to do something on-line after all.

At this workshop I met wonderful photographer Anna Bedyńska. We had to come up with two ideas, what we could do for those few months during the workshop. My one idea was to tell such stories a little bit too, as well as about me. I myself am with both ear hearing loss myself. I first wore braces, later two hearing aids, and then this hearing deteriorated even more, so I decided to get an implant, and so on to implantation. And when they locked us in houses and we had to wear masks, and contact with the doctor was only by phone, Which for me was difficult to overcome, because I don’t know sign language, first of all, I read lips, so through the masks it was a massacre.

“I know a few people like that. in a similar situation as me. Maybe we could tell such a story”

[Anna]: I told Ani that “I know a few people like that. in a similar situation as me. Maybe we could tell such a story.” Anna said, that there is a very cool idea, because among us there are more and more people like this, who are somehow losing their hearing and have a harder time in life because of it. It would be nice to tell such a story, I suggested the idea and started to implement it. The hardest thing about this idea was – because I wanted to invite to this idea not only people I know, but also some people I don’t know – and the challenge, in this project was this, That they primarily consisted of a meeting, On talking in their homes, and taking pictures onsite. It was mega brave on of my heroes side, that they invited me inside. These trips basically lasted all day, To go to different places. We talked and only then, when we both felt comfortable, then I would pull out my camera, take pictures. What else…

Later, already at the end of this project, this workshop, had to be, the second difficult stage was editing, that is, preparing a set of photos. It was quite difficult, but it seems to me, that I was able to complete it. To add short stories, because the most important thing for me is the pictures. And present them in an exhibition.

[Margaret]: Well, that’s where we can see the results of your work?

[Anna]: The exhibition is at the Goclaw Cultural Terminal, on Goclaw (Warsaw), is open daily from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, is’t free, Monday to Sunday. I am very happy because this is very cool place, this is not a closed gallery, it’s an open space, anyone can go there, anyone can stop there, look at the pictures, think about some things. I’d love to know what the other people’s thoughts of this exhibition.

[Margaret]: We encourage you (viewers) to leave your thouhgts in the comments.

Between two worlds

[Margaret]: And tell us, please, what you was guided by the thought, the idea, when you created this exhibition? What did you want to convey, What, about whom, did you want to tell with your pictures?

[Anna]: I think with these photos, the stories of these characters of mine, I also told a little bit about myself. Me as a hearing-impaired, deaf person, I feel so between two worlds. I am neither in the world of those, hearing, nor those who are completely deaf. I don’t know sign language. I face various difficulties related to the fact that I can’t hear normally, only with the help of electronic equipment. I also find it scary sometimes, That I am clearly, 100 percent addicted to electronics support. But still, I don’t want to be locked in a world of silence. I think this exhibition is also about that.

[Margaret]: So somewhere in these pictures you show your heroes, but also your story.

[Anna]: Yes. I’m very connected to, With every story of my characters because every element of their story connects to mine.

[Margaret]: You said earlier, that you meet them before taking these pictures, That was the kay to speak with them, and you took pictures after the interview. Was there anything in particular, that was memorable to you? Maybe some meeting, words, situation, Something that you still recall to this day?

[Anna]: With each of the characters I am very emotionally connected. I think because of those conversations, I have learned something for myself, and each of these people pulled something from me. We found a common language, for a while we were able to complain about the same situations, that we encounter, and that we have a problem with. What was also cool, that we understood each other without words. Despite the conversations, we understand each other without words.

“Don’t call me deaf”

[Margaret]: I wanted to refer to the title of your exhibition “Don’t call me deaf.” I think to myself, That for some of the Deaf people, identifying themselves with Deaf Culture, it is this word “deaf/a” gives them such power, gives them a sense of belonging, is something they are proud of, Which gives them such a benchmark. But when I think to myself about the Polish language and about how we use the word, it very often becomes an insult. “And what are you deaf/deaf!!!”. A bit like saying “What are you blind!!!”, so I wonder, where did you get such a title from? Is it just “deaf” that in your life, in your experience of the word Is it an insult or just something, that gives strength and belonging?

[Anna]: As I said, I haven’t had contact with Deaf people, With the Deaf community. I’ll honestly admit that I didn’t know about this, how they treat this term, how they are attached to the term “Deaf.” This title is more in the context of my childhood experiences, although I will say frankly, that not even in my childhood, when the term “deaf”, I very much associated with the term: dumber, worse. When people with normal hearing had no patience with me or they assumed in advance “this one can’t hear, this one is deaf, it’s not worth to spend more time on her.” For example, to repeat something louder, slower, clearer. Not necessarily louder, just slower and clearer. This title comes from my experience. As I said the exhibition and the project is about heroes, With similar experiences as me, but I did it because of of what’s in my soul. Throughout my life I have so incompletely accepted the fact that I can’t hear.

[Margaret]: Wait, because (you can hear) some music or something turned on in the background (noises).

[Anna]: I will briefly say, The title refers to my childhood experiences, albeit not entirely, because I still happened to me a few years ago, that an adult with higher education gave me to understand, that since I can’t hear normally, only through electronic equipment, then I won’t be able to manage in a certain profession.

[Margaret]: Okay…

[Anna]: This is also… I made this project, for working through my… I don’t know… weakness or complex associated with not being able to hear. And that’s how the title reads. Referring to such an association, that deaf means dumber, inferior….

[Margaret]: That is, when you think about yourself, or when you name your hearing impairment, it’s more like you’re saying that you’re a a deaf person, a hearing impaired person? – Yes. – Okay. I think this is also such important information, so that before one evaluates inquire, understand, because you can see what kind of person each has experienced this deafness in their lives and how different the meaning can have for her this word, so I’m glad you talked about it, what it looks like from your perspective. You said you had that concern, that you are addicted to this electronic equipment. As I understand it, you mean the implant, right?

[Anna]: Yes, yes. I have two implants, I went back to the so-called stereo situation, that I can hear from both sides, because for many, many years I wore one hearing aid, even though the hearing defect at one point on both ears was similar. But now I have implants and it is in a way… well not in a way, it is 100% dependence on electronic equipment, on batteries, on chargers, on this, to make this equipment function, So that I can hear normally.

Life with implants

[Margaret]: Can you tell us what life is like for a person with implants, What you have to take care of, what you have to remember. And how did you come to… Because I imagine that the operation implantation is one thing, but behind that certainly is followed by a long rehabilitation and demanding work. If you could say a few words about your experiences And also about the situation of people with implants in Poland.

[Anna]: I will say this, as far as about now – about my current situation. It’s when it comes to the external electronic equipment that I carry, then he looks a lot like the cameras, is a little smaller with an extra cable. Taking care of this equipment is similar as taking care of hearing aids — Drying, etc. Indeed, here I am still dealing with the internal part, which is just implanted in the area behind the ear.

The operation is now in short order, because the entire surgery including the hospital stay – three days. And then you actually have to be patient, because this hearing is completely different from the hearing aids. Although it’s been so long time ago that I don’t remember anymore. I’m already 100% addicted Of this electronic hearing. But it does indeed require rehabilitation, it requires exercise, it requires patience.

I think that I, in this respect, have had it a little easier in my life, because I’ve heard worse since I was a little girl, those hearing aids were necessary for me. I think that in a worse situation may be people who suddenly lost their hearing, but still have that auditory memory and they decide to have surgery. I think for them it might be a bigger shock, because, however, this hearing is different from the natural one. Nevertheless, these are people who do not want to be locked in a world of silence and they decide to go for this implantation, rehabilitation, to exercise, on the decision to be dependent on (the equipment). And this is such a slightly worse addiction than to a cell phone, because we can put the phone away. Whereas the implant, or there processor I can download, for example, in the evening, or when I’ve had enough of these external sounds. Nevertheless, if I want to go out to the world, then I have to put on this equipment.

[Margaret]: Anne, thank you very sincerely.Thank you, for telling about your experience. Once again, everyone are invited to the exhibition. We would like to invite you to Ani’s exhibition. It can be viewed until February 21, after your visit, be sure to let us know what impressions it made on you. And I, Anna, thank you very much once again and I keep my fingers crossed for a great viewing of the exhibition And for your future projects.

[Anna]:  Thank you very much. Thank you for the invitation and welcome. Hi!

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