The Hand


Bronia Wistreich-WeillJoining Hands© DR - RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot
In early photographic portraits, the position of hands was a preoccupation as much for the model, wishing to present a dignified image of him or herself, as for the photographer. Dutifully resting on one's lap or on a book, supporting one's forehead or one's chin, with one hand slipped into the opening of a jacket, chance played no part in the choice of pose. When photographers turned away from codified portraiture, when they sought to express the model's personality, they did not forget that the hand is, after the face, the most revealing part of the body. It implores, threatens or prays…It begs, clutches, strokes. It is used in performance by dancers, mimes or comedians. It plays an essential part in the creative process.

If the hand may be seen as part of a whole, as a detail, this presentation also includes photographs of hands as independent fragments. Whereas painters and sculptors made fragments, heads, feet, hands... directly, photographers created them by isolating them, by their choice of framing or lighting. These details, forming a genuine "alphabet of body parts", were widely used as part of an artist's training.

From Disderi to Nadar, from Auguste Vacquerie to Alfred Stieglitz, the selected pieces are representative of the techniques and practices, commercial, artistic or amateur, of photographic production up to the early 20th century. They show anonymous hands, but also those of Nijinsky and of the mime Debureau, the hands of Isadora Duncan and of Bernard Shaw and those of Edgar Degas and François Pompon...


Joëlle Bolloch, archivist, Musée d'Orsay.


The Hand
Bolloch Joëlle
5 Continents / Musée d'Orsay
€ 12

19 June - 30 September 2007
Musée d'Orsay

Photography Gallery

Admission with the museum ticket

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