The picture shows a rather astonished little boy: he isn’t sure what’s happening, or how it’s happening. From a world of silence, he has suddenly been transported to a world of rich, vibrant sound. It is new, it is strange, and it’s also a little scary. His little eyes grow wide with wonder, and he is itching to respond to this new world that has been presented to him. Harold Whittles, the little boy, has just been fitted with a hearing aid. Deaf until then, Harold was introduced to sound with the arrival of technology at his doorstep. Just as his doctor fitted the hearing aid, the first wave of sound awoke a dormant sense in the little boy.
At that precise moment, photographer Jack Bradley froze the scene in a frame from behind the lens. The photograph was carried in Reader’s Digest in 1974. Jack Bradley originally started off with photography as a combat photographer during the Korean War, and for his work there, he earned a Bronze Star, three battle stars and a Presidential Citation. After discharge from that side of service, Bradley went on to work for a Peoria television station as their first newsreel photographer. He then went on to join the Journal Star newspaper in 1955. Over twenty five years from thereon, he attained a regional prominence few have ever equaled.
Jack Bradley’s photography was largely documentary in nature: and therefore, capturing images such as this one has been done purely as an exercise under pressure, and in less than ideal conditions to facilitate qualitative photography. Best appreciated for the historical context and for the moment it captured rather than the technique, the image was shot without such things as autofocus, image stabilization, or exposure automation in an era when distances were often estimated and preset on a lens. Reels and films that were shot were pushed forth in the course of processing, so that the photographs could be taken in low light and capture the best. Until about the early 1980s, aesthetics were not given as much importance and priority by photojournalists. What was in use then was simple, oil-based ink, poor quality paper and coarse engraving screens, which resulted in a grainy, fuzzy and indistinct result.
This image is a representation of a reality that few attach value to, in a day and age where technology is but a regular norm. In an era where differently abled people were perceived as helpless and society had no solutions to offer to give them the means to exercise their right to make their lives comfortable, such photographs are a reminder of the value that things like earphones had. It is not that their value has diminished today, but rather, that there is less wonder and amazement today. The photograph preserves a very simple and beautiful side to humanity, one that we are progressively losing sight of in our crazy pursuit of materialism.