Photograph of hands
Blessings by richard seah
The Balinese are a very spiritual people and they would have elaborate prayer ceremonies to bless every major item before using it – a house, a car, even a TV set.
This is one of my absolute favourite photographs. The fact that I took this photograph in the early 1980s, at a time when I was relatively new to photography, makes me all the more proud of myself.
Moreover, the photograph was taken somewhat in a hurry. My ex-wife and I were on our way somewhere, probably to dinner, when we came across this scene.
I took just this one close-up photograph, plus a couple more showing the entire scene but which didn't look nearly as nice, and we went off.
This was my first photograph of hands. As I had mentioned, it was my ex-wife who first drew my attention to the expressiveness and character of hands, and that got me interested in photographing them. The result certainly encouraged me to explore the subject further.
This also combines hands photography with my other favorite photography subject, prayer images.
It took more than 20 years, however, for this photograph of hands to evolve to its present state.
The original photograph was taken on Kodachrome 64 slide. It was evening and the light was poor. Probably because of that, the entire image had a bluish cast. So although the composition is good, the lighting and color were bad.
Three years ago, when I launched my original website, www.richardseah.com, I got the slide scanned into a digital image so that I can post it on my website.
The initial result was a disaster. I did not know, then, that slide scanning was a fine art. I merely sent it to one of those regular photo-developing kiosks along Orchard Road. The digital image came out very very blue, almost could not see a thing!
I had it re-scanned four times, wasting a lot of money in the process, before I got something decent, but still quite bad.
This is how horrible the second version was, and it was still better than the first:
The worst thing was, the guy at the color-lab genuinely could not see how bad it was, and he insisted that it was close to the original. He was not pulling a fast one on me. He was a nice man and I could sense that he spoke with all sincerity. Either that or he was a damn good actor!
The fourth version looked like this. At least the colors were more correct, but it was still way, way too dark compared to the slide.
Last year (2004) I found a lab that produced quite good scans. What they gave me was a further improvement, but still too dark. At that time, I only knew how to use the "bightness/contrast" adjustment in Photoshop, so I ended up with something like this:
Finally, this year, I learnt more of Photoshop and I began to experiment... It occurred to me that this photograph of hands might look better in black and white.
Then I had an idea to retain a bit of the yellow of the flower. If I remember my steps correctly, I created a new layer, de-saturated all of the colors except for yellow and a bit of red, and then blended this new layer with the original layer, at about 90 percent opacity.
So, after more than 20 years, I believe I've created a minor masterpiece out of this photograph of hands. In the process, I marvelled at what Photoshop could do!
I am pleased with the results so far. I submitted this photograph of hands recently to Montage 2005, a photographic exhibition organised by the NUS (National University of Singapore) Photographic Society. It didn't win a prize, but was among the 100 photographs, out of over 2,300 entries, selected for exhibition.
It would have been nice, of course, if I did win something. Perhaps soon it will.
Prints of this praying hands image are available for sale. Larger prints come in very limited editions, but smaller 5R and 8R prints are made very affordable to encourage the collection of fine art photographs by those with limited budgets.
All prints, including the affordable 5R and 8R prints, are signed by me, Richard Seah.