A Show of Hands is an extensive photographic study of the hands of Britain by the photographer Tim Booth, who has turned images of people’s hands into an alternative form of portraiture.
He shot his first pair of hands (his then 90 year old grandmother) back in the early nineties.
It was just a quick shot taken of her hands resting on her stick in the garden, but when he developed it in the darkroom, he realised he’d captured so much of her life wrapped up in the image. This sowed the seed for a project that was to span the next twenty years.
As he shot that first image in black and white (pushed Tri-x), in natural light and in just a few minutes, he decided to stick within that brief, though he moved to digital in the later years of the project. His goal was to shoot portraits of people whose hands are intrinsic to how they express themselves to the world. Hands that have built bridges, farmed fields, conducted orchestras, dug graves, fished, rowed, composed and played music, modelled, acted, comforted and healed. From the graceful gesture of a ballerina, to the hammer blow of a boxer, the hands all have a story to tell. Some have become famous for their artistry, skill and dexterity, others, no less important, through strength,endeavour and toil, bear the scars of a hard and industrious life.
Spanning the last twenty years, the project set out to explore the concept of a different kind of portraiture. Faces trigger immediate responses from the viewer, we are all hard-wired to lock into the eyes, nose and mouth of a face, and are sub-consciously attracted or repelled by the configuration. Clouded by pre-conceptions and biological reaction, the face almost becomes a barrier to seeing the person, especially if their face is recognisable. Focusing just on the hands puts all the subjects on even ground, and forces the viewer to look beyond the expected and see, perhaps for the first time, a more approachable and everyday humanity in the sitter.
The work is at times haunting and often intriguing, with a striking level of detail and is as much a collection of lives as it is it of images. Whether it’s Jonny Wilkinson clasping a rugby ball, Sir Ranulph Fiennes the explorer resting his frost damaged hand on a map of Antarctica, an abortionist’s wrinkled fingers clutching a cigarette, or a butcher’s hand dripping with blood – all his images invite you to look past the surface at what is beyond. What have these hands done, what has life etched into them? In the photographic book of the collection A Show Of Hands, each image is accompanied by a short biography telling the story behind the sitter’s hands, often written by the subjects themselves, and is often both engaging and moving.
Tim Booth’s instantly recognisable shooting style echoes across both his portraiture and more recent landscape work, where his focus is to ‘keep it simple’. Asked how he approaches his work he says, “It’s all to easy to let shoots become over-complicated, to be so wrapped up in the process that you begin to forget why you’re there. Unnecessary elaboration, either in front of or behind the camera is often just white noise that interferes with the purity of the purpose, which is to take a strong and impactful image, whether it’s for my personal work or a for client. I only have one goal really when shooting, and that’s to take a photograph that engenders a reaction in the viewer, making them not only remember the image, but want to see it again.” [Official Website]
A Show of Hands
A 196 page case bound hardback volume.
Foreword by Jonny Wilkinson
Printed on 157gsm Hi-Q FSC matt art paper.
Containing over 95 photographs from A Show of Hands.
Published by XII Books.
Publish Date: 6th October 2015.
Size: 290 x 250mm.