That photo is my Mom’s hand, taken in December 2010 when she was visiting me here in Arizona. How would I know it would be her last visit here? That was not part of the plan.

She was sitting out on the back deck reading a book (I think it was some kind of low brow novel) and I noticed the light was vivid on her hand, so I had her “pose” for this photo.

The photo has over 32,000 views on flickr which is a bit amazing, my eighth most popular photo (#selfhorntoot).

Even as a kid I noticed that my mom’s fingers were kind of bony and her veins popped out. She always told me that was because she did so much physical work (or that’s what Mom’s do kid, washing, scrubbing, cleaning, the hands of a Mom do a lot of work).

With the end of the month approaching, the fourth year since she left this world, I was thinking about this photo, and wondered if I could try and replicate it with my own hand:

Of course I am not 80, but my hand is not nearly as vein popping as Mom’s. And the wrinkles in mine are a result of my band having to bend at a sharp angle to get it on top of the book (while I held a camera in the other hand). Maybe with much of life spent on a computer keyboard, I’ve not worn my hands down as much. I do have dabs of dark paint from the project of spray painting my deck chairs.

And just for closing the loop, the book I used is a copy of O. Henry short stories, the very book which was on the shelves in the basement of the house I grew up in.

Our hands say a lot, and it goes to the expression of knowing something like the back of one’s own hand. How well do you know yours.

As a parallel, I came across a story discussing what it called “the most popular photo on flickr”

Holding on

Here are its current stats, over 300,000 views!


The interview does not mention the photographer, Alex Bell’s age, but he is quote as “playing with cameras for 70 years.” But hear him narrate the story behind the photo (my emphasis added).

I used to read and talk to some elderly people, including my mother in her 90’s. I took my camera with me in case there was a photo opportunity, but was quickly told not to take any recognizable photos of the people there — i.e. photos of faces. I decided that hands were not individually “recognizable” and began to choose to sit and read by a window. The window light provided the lighting for the portrait of the hands that has become well known. At first, it was difficult to balance the book and the camera, and I clicked off many dozens of out of focus and camera shaken snaps. But with the Minolta A1’s auto focus and anti shake, I began to be able to take some pictures that seemed to be good enough for Flickr, where I uploaded them small.

I now wish I had read more books — and taken more snaps. I did sneak in some faces, and in due time may upload some of those. My mother died a while back at the age of over 100.

After taking the photo, I did only a minimal amount of post-processing. I don’t enjoy Photoshop. I would rather use the time with a camera. Hence, I am not very good at the computer, although I have tried several editing programs. Usually I fiddle with one of the “Levels” type tools to try to get a full range of tones, and maybe brighten up colours. (Apart from cropping, resizing, and removing objects, of course. Lately I have used Topaz Detail, but don’t know if that has improved my photos).

After taking the picture, I had no idea that it would see such wide viewership online. I have never been sure which of my photos will go well on Flickr, and which just bomb. I take the scenes that tickle my eyes, and thoughts of popularity seem irrelevant.

I love that “I take the scenes that tickle my eyes.”

It’s worth noting how Alex figured to take photos of hands as to give people some measure of their privacy. I think we forget this in our online video conferencing and posting of videos of ourselves. We need not be pushing our faces into the camera, sometimes the hands can show enough and let our voice to do the communicating.

Hands, across time.

Top / Featured Image credit: flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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