Why I Love to Photograph Hands

Why I Love to Photograph Hands

grandfather's hands

My favorite thing about being a photographer is storytelling through images. As much as I talk, sometimes I’m at a loss for words. (Can you believe it?)  I feel that images fill in the gaps where my words fail.

One of my most favorite things to photograph are people’s hands. They are one of the most expressive parts of the body. People often say the eyes are the window to the soul. For me, hands tell their own stories. They add animation to the stories that we tell when we speak. When they are still they tell of things that lie beyond. The lines, veins, and other markings tell of a life lived. They can express joy, pain, loss, and beauty. The hands and fingers are often giveaways to what the rest of the body is feeling.

As universal as they are, we hardly notice them unless there is something missing from them or they are severely deformed in some way.

Hand portraits are also my favorite because they are far less invasive than a formal portrait. Often times people are uncomfortable getting their portraits taken. I mean, we all have things we are less excited about in our appearance. I’ve struggled with this myself over the years.

You can read about my journey to self acceptance and photography by clicking here.

 

Photographing hands offers a kind of autonomy. The identity is only known to the photographer, the subject, and whomever they are the most intimate with.

Photographing hands leads to a visual mystery. With traditional facial portraits we often try to judge what  we think or interpret is going on in the photo. With hand photography you have less room for preconceived notions.  The autonomy of a hand portrait is more intriguing to me because you have ask more questions, be silent, and take it in. You find your mind wandering to  imagine the life of the subject.

I love the juxtaposition of older and younger hands. The contrast of a full life lived, and one just beginning is especially heart tugging. I love it because for a moment in time a generation is forever connected in the flesh.

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Last Christmas Eve, my grandfather fell ill. He wasn't recognizing anyone or anything.

His speech was slow and slurred. I called him to tell him we were on our way. He worried about us traveling and told us that there would be another time.

He said "Baby, I love you and I have always loved you."

 

My heart broke into a million pieces.

You see my papa is my everything. He is my father figure. There isn't a time in my life that I can't remember him not being there for me every step of the way. I used to follow him around everywhere chatting away. He was always patient with me. One time he said "Baby why do you talk so much???" I responded "Papa?... How am I supposed to learn if I don't ask questions?" He laughed and said "Alright baby."

We raced here as fast as we could through snow and whiteout conditions. The thought of losing him is something I couldn't take, and I didn't want that phone call to be our last interaction.

 

The look of pure joy on his face when we walked in the room was priceless.

He doesn't look like the papa I remember. He's looks dramatically different. I kept fighting back tears every day I was with him.

He has since recovered a bit, but he still suffers from medical issues. He has been in and out of the hospital a few times.  He won’t ever be the same as he was. I had  just seen him the previous year bright eyed as bushy tailed as he was when I was a child.

Papas hands. connecting generations

I know he won’t be around forever. That is why this photo of him holding my hand is so important to me. He has always lifted me up with his hands, and for a moment I lifted him up with mine.




 

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