Deaf Photographer Protests Trump with Strong Words

An image from the photo series 'Roar from the Heart' (Photo: Clare Cassidy)

Clare Cassidy is an artist, with a beef against President Donald Trump. “I was so pissed off," Cassidy, who is based in Livermore, says. “I could see his oppression to everyone that he’s touched -- people with different religions, people of color, deaf. Humanity has been tainted.”

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When Cassidy signs about Trump her eyes blaze, and her gestures seem sharper, more emphatic. You really notice her gestures because Cassidy is deaf. She speaks using American Sign Language through an interpreter, in this case, her friend Shelley Lawrence.

Photographer Clare Cassidy signing the word roar
Photographer Clare Cassidy signing the word "roar." (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

Cassidy says that while she was initially in a state of despair after the presidential election, she soon realized she had a way to turn her anger into visual art.

"As a deaf person, I am attuned to the environment with no auditory distractions," Cassidy says. "So I capture things with my eyes."

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Wearing your heart on your chest

Cassidy is a photographer, with a thriving business in family portraits. But for this project, she’s recruited around 140 subjects so far -- both friends and strangers -- for an online series of black and white portraits she calls Roar from the Heart.

For the images, Cassidy asks people to spell out their feelings, literally, by writing them in marker on their chests. Then they pose for her camera.

An image from Clare Cassidy‘s photo series ‘Roar from the Heart‘
An image from Clare Cassidy‘s photo series ‘Roar from the Heart‘ (Photo: Clare Cassidy)

“When you’re angry, when you’re happy, you feel it in your chest, Right? In your heart," Cassidy says.

The subjects’ faces reflect their words: “Tenacious,” “appalled,” “fierce.” Two women in the same picture share the defiant phrase, “Don’t even try to touch our marriage.”

One of the images from Clare Cassidy‘s photo project ‘Roar from the Heart‘
One of the images from Clare Cassidy‘s photo project ‘Roar from the Heart‘ (Photo: Clare Cassidy)

Besides her photography work, Cassidy teaches at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. She says she’s photographed herself twice for the series. In the first image, she wrote the word “enraged” on her chest. “I really wanted to choke someone,” Cassidy says.

By the time she captured herself on camera again, she had a different attitude. “I’m a fighter," she says. "So the second photograph had the word 'fighter.'"

A self portrait by Clare Cassidy for ‘Roar from the Heart‘
A self portrait by Clare Cassidy for ‘Roar from the Heart‘ (Photo: Clare Cassidy)

Personal animosity

For many disabled artists, the animosity toward Trump is personal. Cassidy she says people in her community haven’t forgiven Trump, while on the campaign trail, for mocking and mimicking Serge Kovaleski, a disabled reporter now working for The New York Times.

Susan Henderson, executive director for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) in Berkeley, says the disabled community's feelings about the president extend beyond that incident. “President Trump is implementing policies that will hurt people with disabilities,” Henderson says. “We feel that what he was doing on the campaign was certainly foreshadowing that.”

Henderson says the disability rights community worries about Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That puts at risk the Obama era requirement that insurance companies cover people, like the disabled, with preexisting conditions.

Henderson says her organization is also concerned about Trump’s choice of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, because she seems ignorant about the Individuals with Disabilities Enforcement Act (IDEA). IDEA is a law that seeks to protect the rights of disabled students, and DeVos says she wants to leave enforcement of the act up to the states.

“The reaction to DeVos was greater than anything I’d seen,” Henderson says. “We had so many phone calls and emails. It was a groundswell. It was the grassroots rising themselves up to talk about how inappropriate her appointment was.”

An image from Clare Cassidy‘s photo project ‘Roar from the Heart‘
An image from Clare Cassidy‘s photo project ‘Roar from the Heart‘ (Photo: Clare Cassidy)

Capturing passion with a camera

This level of passion can be clearly seen in the photos captured by Clare Cassidy in Roar from the Heart. These days, the artist calls herself an “alarmist for humanity,” warning society about the dangers of the President’s policies concerning women, Muslims, people of color and  the disabled.

So if Trump were to stumble on Cassidy's online gallery, what would the artist like the president to feel?

“A little twitch in his heart," Cassidy says. "I just hope it can start him understanding the bigger picture.”

Photographer Clare Cassidy signing the word empathy
Photographer Clare Cassidy signing the word "empathy." (Photo: Cy Musiker/KQED)

Cassidy is still recruiting subjects for her photo project. And she’s encouraging people to submit their own images with a word or phrase on their chest, shot against a dark background, with the hashtag #roarnow.

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