Hand Portraits – Revisited

On the Renewed Significance and Symbolism of Photographing Hands–Hand Portraits and Gestures–in a Time of Covid-19

Months ago I started working on a new hand portrait series. At the time, I had more of an activism purpose in mind for this particular body of work. But then Covid-19 happened and it slightly started to reshape the overall purpose of my hand portrait series, which is, I should say, very much a work in progress at this time. But, since we’re living in time of Coronavirus, here’s a peek preview:

“Talk with Your Hands” – Gesture and Self-Expression: A Series of Black-and-White Hand Portraits and Self-Portraits

Gesture, hand gesture in particular, is a powerful way of expressing ourselves beyond words. Italians are famous for talking with their hands, to powerfully, passionately, emphasize a point. As to further highlight the importance of such an art, an Italian hand gesture emoji is to become available sometime this very year. (was supposed to, but that was in a pre-covid-19 world)

Touch. Hand self-portraits in black and white. ©Alina Oswald.
Touch. Hand self-portraits in black and white. ©Alina Oswald.

Perhaps there’s no surprise that photographers are often drawn to capturing gesture in their images—hand gesture in particular and body language in general—in order to tell a visual story, send a message or a call to action, or express a feeling–love, compassion, anger, rage, sadness, etc. That’s because hand gesture defines a unique, yet universal means of communication through which we can express some of our deepest feelings and emotions oftentimes so powerful that we cannot quite put into words. Not only that, but hand gestures create intriguing shapes and forms that emulate, themselves, an equally intriguing way of expression and self-expression. In the process, hand gestures create a rich language—maybe not in words, but in the passion and powerful feelings captured in those words.

Hang Loose (like a mongoose). Hawaii handshake. Hand self-portraits in black and white. ©Alina Oswald.
Hang Loose (like a mongoose). Hawaii handshake and touch-free handshake. Hand self-portraits in black and white. ©Alina Oswald.

Talking with our hands allows us to communicate with others in a certain universal language. Sometimes, it crosses speaking and hearing boundaries (through the sign language) or eyesight boundaries (the Braille alphabet), allowing us to see, learn, communicate and connect with the world and with others beyond certain boundaries, break those boundaries and lead the way to new possibilities.

Yet, recently, in a time of Coronavirus, we’ve become more and more aware of the way we use our hands, especially when interacting with other people. Does the virus limit the way we communicate with our hands? Does it force us to deplete this language of its words (hand gestures) or rather inspire us to create new words and, thus, enrich this way of communication?

As always, hope this finds you well and safe and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

Alina Oswald

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