Toronto based photographer Maya Fuhr has this magical way of turning the strange, unexpected, and often overlooked into art. Whether it’s snapping teenage girls in their rumpled bedrooms, giving new life to discarded plastic packaging, or dreaming up ethereal fashion editorials, she approaches every subject with meticulous attention to detail and dignity — revealing her curiosity and eye for the unusual with each capture.
In her latest series, Fuhr looks in on yet another uncommon world — the Cochlear Implant Clinic at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital — where she visited to document Yamaha Canada’s Random Acts of Music in action as they surprised the clinic’s cochlear recipients with a live performance by acclaimed violinist Lenny Solomon.
The procedure surgically implants an electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing, and for many of the patients, this was the first music they’d experienced in years. “Music is the universal language we all communicate through. It’s something most of us take for granted. We’re hoping this event will shed more light on why people with hearing loss need more funding,” says Laurence Metrick, President of The Metrick System, the agency producing the campaign.
With the help of the clinic’s technology, 64-year-old cochlear patient and musician John Redden became a touring rockstar after decades of deafness. In 2001, he received a cochlear implant allowing him to reunite with his true passion. “Within a short period of time I was able to go home, get my guitar, start playing and singing again,” he tells Fuhr (also quoting Meghan Trainor lyrics in that same conversation). Soon enough, Sunnybrook’s cochlear research facility, headed by the original bass player for the Allman Brothers, asked Redden if he’d be willing to play a few shows on their behalf. “Next thing I knew, my wife and I were traveling all over the world. I felt like Cinderella. It went on like this for about six years. So I started going back out with bands, living the rockstar life.”
Below, Maya Fuhr shares with us her experience of witnessing the power of hearing:
What attracted you to this particular project?
I was drawn to this project because my photo practice is so heavily reliant on images and my visual sensibilities. In general, hearing is something that I really take for granted. It seemed cool to not only combine both these senses but to also reach a larger audience than the demographic that my work usually speaks to. I was in awe of the reaction that these people had to the sound of music. I was enticed to ask them questions about what music meant to them and understand their history, because their portraits really only tell a visual story.
How would you describe the patient’s reactions to hearing music for the first time?
Each of the patients has a different story, they weren’t all hearing music for the first time. Some were returning to it after years and years of silence. There were a range of tears and laughter, but overall I found that they were hanging on the edge of their seats waiting for the predictability in the music that the brain trains us to recognize in beats. Like when I listen to pop music, I kind of can’t help but to eagerly wait for those catchy riffs that I’m familiar with.
Why do you think there is so little awareness about this issue?
The Government of Ontario doesn’t consider hearing loss a disability, so there is little funding for it. I also think that music is something we all take for granted, and we’re not reminded of an individual’s lack of hearing because we don’t necessarily see it first hand. We are so reliant on the information that is thrown in front of our faces, with magazines and the internet with its endless scrolling, that sometimes hearing isn’t as prevalent. With the progressive technology of the Cochlear Implant and sponsors like Yamaha, the word is spreading more and I really hope that it’s a topic that won’t be ignored.
You’ve never photographed anything like this before, yet the images seem to really reflect your personal style. Why do you think that is?
My aesthetic really matched this project because the colors of the Cochlear clinic happened to be similar to the colour palette you see in my photos. It was such a cool surprise when I saw how strangely retro and colourful it was! I also like to take strange still-life photos, so the diagrams, mouldings and equipment used at the clinic were easy to capture in a beautiful way. In my portraiture, I try to not only create a naturally accurate portrayal of my subject, but I like to capture an expression that tells a story. I find that their beauty really shines through in the photos because I caught them directly after they’d heard the music. They were in their element!