I assume we all are multi-tasking at a new level these days physically, emotionally, economically. A parent tries to work while supervising children who are learning at home. How many people weigh a job that puts them at risk against inadequate unemployment benefits? Individuals strive to shelter in place, yet are committed to protesting injustice. Teachers juggle working with students in classrooms and students online. We are urged to be kind and to breathe deeply during these wild times of a pandemic and political turmoil. Yet we know we can’t be silent, we must do more than smile. We need to step up. We need to lend a hand.
Two books of photographs came through my house on their way to the traveling bookstore. One features photos mainly of hands by Eve Arnold, a book I’ve always admired. We do so much with our hands from holding a baby, to pulling a trigger, fixing an engine to threading a needle, butchering a pig to shaping steel. Arnold’s book is remarkable in all the lives she captures, the depths that are revealed. The other book, Women, features Annie Leibovitz‘s photos accompanied by Susan Sontag‘s words, and yes, both Leibovitz’s images and Sontag’s essay will instantly absorb you.
I am fortunate to have both books in front of me at this moment. The people captured by the photographers’ lens, and the questions posed in Sontag’s essay broaden my experience. And isn’t that what we expect books to do? To take us out of ourselves, to show us a different place, a different existence. To remind us that everything doesn’t necessarily start and stop with my individual life. Rather each of us is intertwined with so many others in a myriad of ways. Through books, we can glimpse others’ lives, learn of unimagined experiences, our world grows. Hopefully we gain insight. We see the faces of those who mine coal, a man’s fingers picking coffee beans, a woman’s hands sewing garments in a factory. We see the hands of a surgeon and the hands of an addict. Leibovitz gives us women farmers, actors, scholars, athletes, and politicians.
My take away from these books is the strength we each possess. Despite hardships, despite the place we find ourselves in at this moment. The look in the eyes of the miners at the end of their day, the nurse finishing a long shift, the woman weaving. Both books are reminders of humans’ capabilities and determination.
Handbook, Eve Arnold (2004)
Women, Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag (2000)