Passengers by Luis Mallo
It's said that avid golfers can remember every round of golf played — every hole, every stroke. Perhaps that's true about avid publishers, too. I spend so much time with every group of images we publish that I'm sure I have a more vivid visual archive from the pages of LensWork than most — and this photograph by Luis Mallo is one that I think of frequently.
Photographs of hands can be so expressive. In fact, we've published half a dozen portfolios in our last 20 years that have photographs of hands in them. Perhaps it was this project of Mallo's that got me thinking about this, coming as it did so early in our publishing history. His entire portfolio is nothing but people's hands photographed on the subways he was traveling on. True, in this case we also see a coat and the brim of his hat, but they add meaning, gesture, a subconscious pose to these gently folded hands. He might be praying; he might be sleeping; he might be lost in thought; or he could be inebriated. The one thing we can tell for sure is that his hands have seen rough work, a tough life, and here they are in repose.
If you're not familiar with it, compare Mallo's work in LensWork #29 to that of Walker Evans and his great subway series. In fact, several other photographers have done subway work of note. They all tend to focus on faces, profile portraits, the studied indifference of strangers in close proximity. I find Mallo's concentration on hands to be far more interesting than these other bodies of work because his photographs seem to tell us more of the people. His photographs connect us rather than show us how disparate we are. His photographs show us something of the person rather than the lack of relationship — and in that regard they create a relationship between us and the strangers on the subway. He writes in his introduction "This deliberate exclusion reinforces the hands as the principal conveyor of character and personality in the photographs. They become, in fact, the vehicles that bring their humanity forward towards the viewer, at which point, the images too begin their journey."
Marvelously said, marvelously photographed.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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