James: Gifted photographer undeterred by disability

Saturday September 25 2021
James pic

Deaf photographer, James William PHOTO | FILE

By Lilian Ndilwa

Photographers are known for their expertise in ‘sketching with light’ as they freeze moments made after the shutter button is clicked. What the photos won’t tell us, however, is the immense challenge that a talent behind the camera most likely has to overcome with every shot.

It is likely to see photographers communicating with clients on the kind of pictures to be taken, but for James Francis William, an incredible photographer with speech and hearing impairment, it is a different story.

James, who was born with no physical disability, but later developed a hearing and speech impediment which led to him being deaf and didn’t let his condition stop him from being a photographer.

When he is at work and at social settings, not only is he interactive, but also knows how to work his way through people and things surrounding him whilst making sure that there is an understanding ground at bay.

“I wasn’t born deaf! It is a condition that hit me when I was like two years old,” explains James, adding that it all started when he got sick and diagnosed with malaria.

“My parents took me to hospital where I was misdiagnosed with malaria and the doctors prescribed a quinine shot that impaired my speech and hearing, leaving me deaf,” says James


As they say, disability is not inability, it is for only limbs and senses but not for the spirit. As long as one possesses the strong and healthy will no kind of physical ability can stop them from achieving great things provided they are courageous, determined, persevere and silliness diligent.

This is all true for James, he slowly started to learn how to communicate with people including his family and close friends through sign language.

“As time sped by, I started communicating with other people through written language and lip-reading,” James recalls.

James can still hear low-frequency sound waves such as a dog barking, group laughter, an audience cheering on something, the sound of heavy moving trucks and cars as well as music played in high volumes.

That being the case, he likes wearing earphones while working, he shares that the low-frequency music beats and rhythms keep him calm and concentrated.

“Most of the time at work, I like wearing headphones that play music with high bass in the background because music has a calming effect on me that assists me in focusing on and accomplishing the particular work. There is a positive effect of music beats and rhythms that call for my concentration whenever I’m at work,” he explains.

When he became deaf, James’s family alongside his two younger relatives relocated from Mwanza to Dar es Salaam in search of schools fit for his disability.

The first school he attended was Buguruni School for the deaf and he afterward leveled up to Moshi Technical School located in Arusha Region for high-level studies.

“In between my studies in Arusha, I had to shift to Rev Muhoro School for the deaf located in Kenya and finalized my studies at Cisco Academy for the deaf where I afterward attained my certificate in Information Technology Essential (ITE) and Webbs Institute for web designing courses whereas all these schools are located in Kenya,” James explained.

It was during his traveling in both Tanzania and Kenya that James fell in love with sceneries and with time speeding by, he started developing an interest in photography as a way to seize every moment he came across neck turning sceneries.

“In the beginning, I started by taking pictures with my own phone as a way to appreciate the beautiful sceneries that I came across. Over time I started seeing growth in the way I took those pictures; from angles to quality. I decided to borrow my mother’s camera at the time so as I could perfect my photographic skills with an actual tool and at the same time save money to purchase my own camera,” James details.

In all this, James was keen to understand that for him to venture into photography, there was work he had to put so as to align with his hearty passion for the work of art.

“While in Kenya, I was working in a certain law firm for a while and made photography my side hustle. Amongst my friends’ circle, some were photographers and when they learned of my self-growing passion for the work of art, they were willing to share their knowledge and tactics including photo editing, retouching and lighting,”

James says every day after work at the law firm, he would visit a friend’s studio and learn for about two hours.

According to him, it has been bumpy ride that keeps unraveling in ways he had never thought it would. James reveals that even during the difficult times, the value of photograph kept increasing alongside his knowledge about it.

“When the pandemic hit the world, I was still in Kenya and due to lockdowns, I had to lay off work and focus on how I could truly benefit off from my passion. In August 2020, I came back to Tanzania and began freelancing photography and I was able to get multiple gigs which in turn marked my name in the photograph industry in the country,”

For starters he first built his network, letting his work be known through his friends, family and referred costumers. After a while, he reached out to a media agency namely Infocus Studio where he still works, “Through them, I have managed to work with different companies in various industries,” James reveals.

He explains that despite many clients not knowing of his disability prior to working with him, he is often open and communicative so as to understand the client needs and directives before delivering the work on time.

“I have never let my disability define me or take me down and when it comes to my work, I usually find a way through it. I am known for my appreciativeness at work and social life. Truth be told, there are times when I face difficulties in communicating my thoughts and ideas but I usually find my way through it,” James says.

How he has been able to connect with the world around him is a testament to his resilience and creative spirit.

If one is in need of something deeply inspiring today, James’s story surely makes one want to push harder with one’s passion and talent.

James explains that he strongly believes that deafness or dumbness alongside other disabilities should never limit people to walk to their dreams and reach their full potential.

“You can reach for the stars even when you have a disability because it’s a part of you, but not all of you. I will forever be thankful to my parents, for they have assisted in my vision and gave me an opportunity to lead and work my dream out.

As of now, I‘m constantly learning new photographic techniques and ideas that will, in the end, improve my skills further in this arena.”