City Lit Blog

Deaf Mosaic by City Lit photography student Stephen Iliffe

Story added 25th Nov 2020

Mosaic exhibition logo


The deaf community is an astonishingly diverse mosaic of ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and different ways of life. In a series of intimate photographic portraits and stories, City Lit photography student Stephen Iliffe celebrates this rainbow-coloured mosaic. 

As I push open the doors to the City Lit’s reception cafe, I’m as likely to be pulled into sign language gossip by a friend of Lithuanian or Sri Lankan descent as I am by a cockney or a Scot. Joining the next table of deafies, I might sign to a chief executive or bricklayer, doctor or office cleaner.

At times, it seems as if deaf people mingle with each other across demographic boundaries more freely than hearing people do.”

Why so? The answer is not hard to find: whether their deafness is genetic or otherwise, deaf babies – and children who become deaf later – appear randomly in families across all ethnic and socio-economic groups. 

And, nine out of ten deaf people grow up in hearing families with no experience of deafness, often with limited or no sign language abilities. So, the deaf community fills a gap in our lives. 

The result: a community vibrant enough to bring together people who would otherwise be unlikely to gather under one roof. 

In recent decades, our 70,000-strong UK deaf community has been enriched by migrants from the Commonwealth and European Union (EU) nations,” says Stephen. War and famine have also bought deaf refugees to our shores.

It is this incredible diversity which Deaf Mosaic celebrates.

The City Lit photography courses have been great for sharpening my techniques,” adds Stephen. “My appreciation of how to handle people and use light and shadow took a big leap forward.

The portraits range from female vicar to Muslim kickboxer, deaf-blind athlete, fairground traveller, charity leader and fashion model. 

Deaf Mosaic

Also included is City Lit’s Deaf History lecturer Peter Brown (below):  

Deaf History lecturer Peter Brown

“My hands aren’t just for sign language, I also use them to dig the past,” laughs Peter. His passion is ‘mudlarking’ - sifting the Thames River mud at low tide for antiques. ”You’ll find centuries of history buried here. As deaf history lecturer at City Lit. Institute, Peter unearths the deaf community’s hidden stories via obscure documents and brings them back to vivid life. “I believe strongly that to understand our present and future, we first have to know the past.” Peter Brown.

Stephen Iliffe, 2020

Over the next year, Stephen’s exhibition will continuously evolve by adding new portraits every month to further capture the deaf community’s extraordinarily diverse personalities. 

Exhibition live Tuesday 1 December 2020

You can view the exhibition at

You can also join the Deaf Mosaic Facebook page for regular updates as we will add further photographs and stories in the coming weeks and months. Or, join the Deaf Mosaic Instagram page

Matthew Ward, Photography Coordinator & Studio Manager for Digital Arts

"It is very like the City Lit to have been made aware of this exhibition by one of Stephen's fellow students, rather than by Stephen himself. (I say made aware, in reality, compelled.) I and other City Lit tutors plead with every photography student as they leave to set themselves a project and see where it takes them - in Stephen’s case into the stratosphere. It was a genuine pleasure to get a sneak preview. Fantastic body of work."