Born in 1952 Bill Westheimer was raised in Cincinnati and began experimenting and playing with photographic processes at age 14. He was introduced to the magic of the darkroom in the mid 1960s and has never looked back at the conventional, average, normal, and routine approaches to image making.
THE MANUAL PROJECT: The Personalities of Hands
“The eyes may be the windows of the soul, but hands reveal our humanity.”
With our hands we grasp the world. Hands are used as weapons yet they can also heal the sick – they can caress or crush. There are chakras in our hands and worshipers stand with palms raised. Fortune tellers unveil our futures and reveal our pasts in our palms, while handwriting is analyzed to expose our deepest secrets. Hands hold our absolute legal identities in the fingerprints which make each of us unique. Touch is one of our most perceptive senses. Hands distinguish humans from lower species.
While we control our world with our hands, the hands themselves are also shaped by our worlds. People who work with their hands – doctors, sculptors, magicians – reveal their histories in their hands, whether it’s their softness from being protected in surgical gloves, nicks and burns from working with tools, or flexibility and grace from performing prestidigitation.
MANUAL is a collection of portraits of people from diverse backgrounds, occupations, ages, and cultures from around the globe. In each hand portrait is a study of the person’s dominant hand, revealing evidence of how they have lived, who they are, and what they may become.
It is a collaboration between photographer and subject to expose their hands and their personalities. Without the distraction of faces, these images become honest and deeply perceptive portraits, reflecting the lifestyle, habits, and sensitivity of each subject.
Using 19th century collodion wet-plate techniques, I photographed each person’s dominant hand. Then we collaborated to make a camera-less photogram of the palm print. Combining the two images with the subject’s handwriting, I created one portrait of each person from three perspectives.
The photograph makes a richly detailed image with special tonalities exposed by the wet-plate collodion medium’s sensitivity to blue wavelengths of light. The photogram reveals the texture and pressure of the hand on the paper and captures gesture. The handwriting shows how each person expresses themself from yet another perspective. The three elements combine bring to light a new perception of each person.