Photograph of Hands
A photograph of hands can be highly expressive and full of character. It can tell a lot about the person whose hands have been photographed.
Hands often form an integral element of portrait photography. And many great photographers do feature an occasional hands photograph. Hands photography holds great potential as alternatives to regular portraits -- black & white and color -- for the hands can sometimes tell as much about a person as the face.
The photograph of hands above (click here or on the image to view larger version) is one of my most memorable and, if I may say so, my best art photographs.
It was taken on my first trip to Bali in the early 1980s and, to this day, it remains one of my favourite photographs of hands or, for that matter, of any other subject.
The hands belonged to a Balinese priest blessing a bemo which is what the Balinese call a jeep which serves as a sort of taxi for public transport. The Balinese are a deeply religious people and they bless practically everything before use.
My photographs of hands often combine my two favourite photography subjects hands and prayer.
We tend to think of prayer as something done with our mouths, our minds and our hearts, yet the hands are often an outward expression of the inner prayer.A photograph of hands clasped in prayer or, in a different context, a photograph of hands open in prayer conveys so much about the human yearning to connect with God.
Thus, another favourite photograph of hands is the picture below left, taken in a Buddhist temple in Burma, as Myanmar was then known as when I visited in the early 1980s, When I saw this prayer image of a man set against a huge hand of a Buddha statue, I knew immediately that I had a good photograph of hands here.
The hands picture on the right, however, was a forgotten photograph. I cannot even remember whether it was shot in Burma or Thailand, probably Thailand. I was just among the thousands of slides in my box, but when I was preparing this site, I came across it and thought, hmmm. not bad...
The other good thing about the photograph of hands is that, like the portrait of the face, it lends itself well to black & white photography. This is something that I only just discovered as I write and design this web site, particularly these pages.
The enlightenment came after I read the book, Portraits - Developing Style in Creative Photography by Terry Hope. This is part of a series of books on portraits / black & white photography by the same author. It tells me that such photographs can be considered “portrait innovations” we break loose from the idea that a portrait must show the face.
In Portraits, Terry Hope writes: “A portrait can also be nothing more than... the fingers of a master musician carressing the keys of his saxophone.”
To Terry Hope, a photograph of hands is a portrait, no different from a portrait of a person's face: “The fingers of a master musician” that Terry Hope refers to belong to jazz saxophonist Ben Belinga. Photographer Andreas Zacharatos, writes: “To produce a good representation of someone, particularly a performer, it's not always necessary to include the whole person in the picture."
The issue may be more complex, however. To me, hands offer a cover of anonymity. Unless one knows the person intimately, there is no way of telling whose hands they are. My images of hands are not of great artistes and performers. They are portraits portrait innovations of very ordinary people in very ordinary circumstances.
Some hands are of craftsmen, like these photographs showing the hands of a crafts people.
The photograph of hands below (left) it was taken in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was on a conducted tour and did not have the chance to find out what exactly the person was making just took two quick hands images and had to move on. I am not complaining, however. I am happy to have another addition to my series of hand portraits.
The second picture (right) is of a carpet maker in Pakistan.
While these photographs of hands tell about a person's work, other photographs of hands in more ordinary situations can be equally interesting.
I like especially this photograph of a child being given a drink. It was a very ordinary scene, captured at Lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia. The child was surrounded by people and I managed to zoom in for this one photograph of hands holding the glass.
In researching for this article, I managed to find one photographer who shares my fascination for the photograph of hands.
Tom Ang is a London-based photographer known for his images of Central Asia. In one of his more recent books, Tao of Photography, Tom Ang has an entire (short) chapter, with four accompanying photographs, titled Working with hands.
How revealing can a photograph of hands be? Tom Ang notes, for example, that “elegant hands belonging to a beauty may be tight, clenched and very nervous the signs of a lack of confidence lurking beneath a glossy exterior.”
Interestingly, Tom Ang points out that it is often more difficult to take a photograph of hands than it is to take a photograph of a person's face: “I have found that people are more nervous about having their hands photographed than their faces. On the whole, it is easier to get close to a face, even that of a stranger, than it is to their hands.
The other challenge is that “fingers are constantly on the move; people who are otherwise still can send all their movement into their hands. Fingers at work can be even worse. Focusing on them, even with the benefit of modern autofocus lenses, is almost impossible…”
I certainly can identify with all these challenges and more. Taking a photograph of hands can be tough. But it is also richly rewarding.
I hope you enjoy this gallery of hands images. Plus, I hope you will be inspired to create your own art photographs of hands.