Just last year in 2016, 26-year-old photographer Hannah Ryan started to look at strangers’ hands during her subway rides. A short while after, she decided to compile them on an Instagram account, @subwayhands.
At face value, taking pictures of people’s hands in the subway might seem rather weird and awkward, but when thinking about it properly, it’s genius.
Hannah Ryan discovered a whole new world in New York City while riding the subway between Brooklyn and Manhattan. In this world, there are hands. Hundreds of hands.
Every day, she sneaks photos of people’s hands with her phone trying as much as possible not to be seen. Discretion is key.
She explained on The Creators Project that people have already asked her why on earth she was taking pictures of their hands. When that happened, she always explained and contextualised the project to show them that she is not just a crazy person.
“People are usually tolerant, sometimes intrigued or charmed. I’ve had a handful of unpleasant interactions but if you consider the fact that I’m doing this almost every day they account for a small percentage. I’ve gotten quite shameless about talking to people on the subway, for better and worse.”
Ryan quickly realised that she could capture emotions and portions of life through something as common and invisible as hands.
“Hands are weird. They operate reactively and on instinct. Mostly we let them do their own thing. I think they can be our most honest feature,” she told The Creators Project.
Through her eyes, we get to see selected hands reading, writing, grasping, clenching, and much more. As she uses her phone, she can move fast and guarantee a certain fluidity in her gesture.
Seizing the moment, or at least a moment in her fellow commuters’ lives, is impactful for Ryan: “Subway rides bookend our days in New York, and people react to that intimacy on a spectrum of extreme comfort (man-spreading, flossing) to acute discomfort (like the self-consciousness of being in a crowded elevator). I started to see how people’s body language was centralised in their hands. Sometimes their gestures hint at mood or inner experience,” she told The Creators Project.
Through Subway Hands, it is precisely this awkwardness of subway rides that Ryan wants to capture. This project, which you should now find more brilliant than strange, is another breath of fresh air on Instagram. And who knows, you might start looking at people’s hands differently on the subway. And everywhere else.
Words: Pauline Schnoebelen
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