Most of the time, I take street portraits. I am drawn to interesting people, faces, reactions, or even
details that can add up to the story, their story…
Street photography, and street portraits make no exception, has to tell an entire story at a glance, it has
to make us see emotions, the beauty of the ordinary, the happiness, the sorrow or any given emotion in
a certain context. I see portraits as a depiction of a person or of a group of persons. I look for ordinary
everyday-looking people, people with interesting emotions on their faces, difficult to interpret
expressions, textures in the face or in the hands, I like the immediate proximity, if possible.
But this series is a bit different, as faces are no longer in focus. Hands are.
The expression on the face of the subject can tell us a lot about the person portrayed but the hands, and especially the fingers, can provide some additional and important information. Every hand betrays its possessor by characteristic patterns, by peculiarities of gesture, or by occupational stigmata arising from physical or mechanical causes. Most of us have gestures that we typically make with our hands that transmit the emotions we feel. Hand positioning can even tell us something about our character and personality. Whilst hands are able to ‘talk’ about our temperament, age or profession; in portraits gestures, both relaxed and tense, can also really reflect the state of the person in front of you.
You might sometimes notice tension… Or a nervous energy. A man clinging onto his sleeve, as if he wanted to make sure he is really there, walking in the street with his handbag. Maybe he is worried, his thoughts are elsewhere most of the time, so he tries to keep being present by doing this gesture.
Other times one’s hand might simply be there for him to rest his head on, after a tiring day, while going back home by tram, trying to leave everything behind and concentrate on the music.
Hands and cigars can speak, and the attentive “listener” can learn much from them about their owner. I am not going to get into a complex theory on that now, but it seems the way someone holds their cigar actually says something about him/her. Whether true or false, it definitely adds up when you try to have a candid portrait of a man or woman.
It is also in the hands that you might notice resignation, a feeling of not being able to cope anymore, as life has hit you one to many times… So you humbly accept the fate, as you no longer have the power to question things.
And every once in a while, by looking at hands, you might even read a whole novel filled with stories that took a man from his birth to the present old age. It is in your imagination, of course, but hands have the power to do that…
The symbolism of the hand is very rich and varied. According to studies, hands might represent amity, authority, benediction, construction, divine grace, faith, force, union, honor, labors, mastery, oath, pledge, usefulness, vigor, and work. The fingers, the thumb, and the palm all have their individual symbolism as well.
In An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols, J.C. Cooper offers the following information regarding gestures of the hand:
- On the breast – submission, the attitude of a servant or slave
- Clasping – union, mystic marriage, friendship, allegiance
- Folded – repose, immobility
- Covering the eyes – shame or horror
- Crossed at the wrist – binding or being bound
- Laying on – transference of power and grace or healing
- On the neck – sacrifice
- Open – bounty, liberality, justice
- Clenched – threat, aggression
- Outstretched – blessing, protection, welcome
- Placed in another’s – pledge of service, the right hand pledges the life principal
- Placed together – defenselessness, submission of the vassal before the sovereign, inferiority, inoffensiveness, greeting, allegiance
- Placed on each other palm upward – meditation, receptiveness
- Raised – adoration, worship, prayer, salutation, amazement, horror, also receiving of the influx of power
- Raised with palm outwards – blessing, divine grace and favor,
- Both hands raised – supplication, weakness, an implication of ignorance, dependence, surrender, also invocation and prayer
- Raised to head – thought, care
- Shaking the hand – forms the cross or ankh of covenant, a pledge
- Washing hands – dinner, innocence, purification, repudiation of guilt
- Wringing hands – excessive grief or lamentation
Countless stories and interpretations can appear in photographs as well. You only have to observe, to be
present, to watch the details and then, press the shutter.