05 September 2013

How Hands Define Us

In the summer of 1987, a few months after my grandmother died, my mother stood, shoulders slumped and shaking. The scent of biscuits had pulled me into the kitchen.

She was silently sobbing. I hugged her and asked what was troubling her.

“Oh, I just remembered something as I was making biscuits,” she said. I looked at her in that knowing way … asking her to continue without using words.

“Shortly after your grandmother died, I went to the kitchen to clean out things. When I opened the Crisco, I saw where she had used her fingers to take the Crisco out to make biscuits.”

I imagined the tracks made by my grandmother’s hands. She cooked without measuring, and most everything was homemade. I remember her hands.

As a teen, I would often sit down with my grandmother … clip, file and clean her nails. She had the sweetest hands, tired from years of working the land and feeding her family. I can remember them, but I regret never learning to draw well enough to reproduce them.  Ironically, I began my coursework in photography that following fall after her death.

It is those we love who define us. The best I can do now, is document the hands that define me. I began late, so I have no images of my mother’s hands either. They are imprinted in my mind as well.

So, I present one of my most intimate series of photographs.

The series began with this image I made of my daughter and my husband’s mother’s hands. My mother-in-law is the only grandmother my daughter has left.

This summer I traveled to Tennessee to capture the hands of my father as his wrapped around my daughter’s.

Then, I found the woman who served as a surrogate mother to me in my early years as a young professional.

Here are my daughter’s hands.

This has inspired my son to also document my hands. Here are mine wrapped around my daughter’s as we sat in a restaurant talking with friends.

But this is my favorite hands photograph, taken by my husband. This was the decisive moment where the love of my kids presents the definitive definition of me.

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