On Monday August 24, 2020 twenty-eight people participated in slow-looking and then discussing two black and white photographs taken by Tina Modotti, who traveled with Edward Weston to Mexico in the 1920s and became involved with the cause of workers.
Participants from England, India, Mexico, and the Philippines joined those from CA, CT, ME, NY, NJ, NM, and PA in responding to the photos titled “Hands Resting on a Tool” and “Hands Washing”: noticing the contrasts of dark and light, motion and stillness, the upright posture of one subject and the stooped or kneeling posture of another. People said they wanted to see the workers’ faces, guessed age and gender, wondered if those who were pictured worked for themselves or others, and drew our attention to the hands of the photographer, which do not appear in the prints. Looking closely at the photographs and creating possible meanings, participants imagined strength and purpose in the workers’ hand, and sympathy with the cause of workers on the part of the one documenting their labor. One person said the photos suggested sculpture, that these portraits of hands might be extended to include torsos and faces and formed into sculptures. Another person observed that the “pinky” of the hands that were washing was missing a joint. Looking at those hands, one person recalled the axiom “A woman’s work is never done” and also said that there was no real rest because the “resting” of hands on a tool was posed. One person remembered that the name Antwerp comes from a story involving hands and that colonial rulers sometimes punished those they colonized in Africa by severing their hands. This lead to discussing the many functions of hands and segued to the prompt: “Write about what hands can do.”
A handful of people read their 5-minutes of writing. These included narratives connecting hands to the mind or the heart, to the capacity to heal and hurt, and to prayerful intentions to “do only good.” As participants responded to what was read they mentioned images evoked (such as tree branches); comparing and contrasting the capacities that hands hold; the language of hands; gracefulness and movement; a series of questions that narrowed and deepened thought; playfulness in a piece of fiction and the possibilities afforded by prosthetic limbs. One account detailed the procedure of home dialysis—the procedure beginning with the sounds and rhythm of “snap and tap” that felt like a dance and included the seriousness of purpose to “remove deadly bubbles” from the lines connecting person and machine.
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!
Please join us for our next session Wednesday, August 26th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.