We can learn a lot about people by looking at their hands. Close-up photos of them are often taken when the subjects are newborns or elderly people, but probably relatively few are taken during other phases of life. Hands can say a lot about our interaction with each other and with the world. UK photographer Tim Booth believes the hands tell a more honest story about what a person has been through than faces.
American portrait artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) paid particular attention to hands in order to reveal his sitters’ temperament. Stephanie Herdrich, in an article on the Metropolitan Museum website, writes, “Sargent’s accentuation of hand gestures reveals details about his sitters’ personalities or moods and, in some cases, the sitters’ relationship with the artist.”
Another thing you might take note of when photographing is how your own hands are changing over time. For me, it’s one way I see my own age. In the past few years I’ve developed vitiligo (loss of skin pigmentation, resulting in white patches) on my hands; they look quite different from the way they did a few years ago. It doesn’t bother me and I don’t try to cover it up—it’s mostly a cosmetic thing, not a real health concern—but it is a part of me that has changed, and changed quickly. Since I respond to so much of my daily life from my perspective as a photographer, one way I can notice physical changes over time is through photographs.
You’ve no doubt had the familiar sinking feeling that comes from looking through photos from a few years earlier and thinking, Wow, I’m getting old. I looked so much younger then. (When it hasn’t even been that long, sometimes.) This is something my wife and I talk about often. Age is always at our heels; youth is always receding in the mirror.
Nothing keeps reminding us of that like ordinary snapshots. In that sense, the snapshots that document our most everyday moments become the ones that most accurately chart our passage through time.
Photo tip: It’s a worthwhile endeavor to document the hands of family members over time to see the effects of time and age.
“Hands” appears on Photo Vogue–Vogue Italia website.