A Conversation on Human Hands, Minds and Creativity
Renée: Aloha Stephanie! During the last couple weeks we’ve danced and talked together about “hands” in our Nia classes. We’ve been Self-Crafting with our hands, blessing, creating and expressing with our hands. Then you sent me this beautiful video of women working and creating art and music with their hands. What thoughts can you share with me about hands?
Stephanie: I was an academic for many years, but I found that it didn’t fulfill the creative side of me. So I picked up my camera, started my own photography business in 2008, and have always been happy with that decision. As I worked with my camera, at a certain point, my hands and my camera became one.
Renée: Can you explain what you mean by that?
Stephanie: At a certain point my hands can take over some of the work that my mind used to have to get involved in. For example, I constantly move around the people I’m photographing to get a different angle, a different lighting. My hands know my camera so well, they can change all the settings without my even having to consciously think about it. My hands know what to do without my looking at the camera, so I can keep my eyes on the dad swinging his child through the air.
Renée: It sounds as if you have a trained intelligence in your hands.
Stephanie: Yes! Exactly. The trained intelligence of my hands makes it possible for me to stay in the moment, not having to come out of it to fiddle around with camera details.
Renée: Maybe others of us can relate to the way we can use a keyboard to type without thinking about how to get every word onto the page, or how our hands on the steering wheel can get us to a familiar place without us giving it much thought.
Stephanie: Exactly. It’s almost as if our minds are partly in our hands.
Renée: Well, cutting edge research is saying our gut is our “second brain”. Why shouldn’t our hands have intelligence – we’ll have to look into that research!
Stephanie: Sometimes you just get a “feeling” for something with your hands, a feeling that is a knowing. A ceramic artist like my mom can just feel with her hands when the clay sides of bowl she’s working on have gotten too thin. A chef knows from the bounce back of touching a piece of meat how done it is, without using a thermometer. My friend who’s grooming the Portuguese Water Dog in my Hands video knows every square inch of the dog, no matter what size or breed they are.
Renée: So you’re saying her hands know every square inch of the dog?
Stephanie: Yes, and the pianist knows her way around the piano keys the same way.
Renée: Both our creative, choice-making minds and our expressive, purposeful, creative hands seem deeply connected with our identity as human beings. I was mentioning in Nia class that the word “man” and “human” come from the Sanskrit term “manas” meaning “mind” The “manasa” in Sanskrit are the thinking, choosing, self-directing beings of the universe. “Manas” is also the root of the word for “hand” in many languages, and for a phrase like “manual labor” in English. What are your thoughts on the human mind and human hands?
Stephanie: I got my PhD in Biological Anthropology. Having spent a long time observing monkeys and chimps, I have to say they don’t have anywhere near the same small motor skills with their hands that we do. I’ve watched chimps try to pick up tiny things, and their pincer grip between their thumb and forefinger isn’t as refined as ours. I watched one try to pick something small up by putting her two pinky fingers close together. Even when chimpanzees groom, they comb with their hands, then often use their teeth to get the nits. It’s true that chimps sometimes put a stick into a termite mound to get a little snack, but we are working with tools all the time!
Renée: What about creativity and hands?
Stephanie: I love gardening and cooking. I’m an off-book, intuitive cook. I love creating new recipes! Doing handcrafts for me is such fulfilling outlet.
Renée: And what about the men in your family using their hands?
Stephanie: My husband likes working out in the yard, not so much using fine-motor skills, but with a rake or handsaw. And my dad is always making something in his workshop.
Renée: Yeah, my husband likes “puttering” in his shop, making fishing lures or inventing something for his little boat. I think we like seeing something in our minds and then making it happen with our hands. What do you like about photography?
Stephanie: Here’s a quote that I really like:
“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
— Aaron Siskind
Renée: What does that quote mean to you?
Stephanie: I would love to encourage people to get in the frame! Don’t wait until you’ve lost weight, done your hair, or cleaned up the room. Photograph yourself with the people you love for the memories you’re creating of real life, not for the perfection you feel you need to portray. When you look back at them years from now, the photos WILL be perfect.
Stephanie: Our boys were born in 2005 and 2008. Wanting to photograph my own children well was a big driver for me. I wanted to take photos that would bring me back to what they were like at that age, what it was like for us to be with them, not just what they looked like then.
I do a lot of observing, being patient, waiting for the right moment rather than rushing it, waiting for the real, authentic thing to happen between people.
Renée: It sounds as if you mostly take photos of people.
Stephanie: Oh yes! I’m all about social interaction. For my business, I primarily photograph families and celebrations, also working for local businesses and universities at their events. I may do about 150 sessions a year,
Renée: Sounds as if you like to give your photography plenty of time.
Stephanie: Definitely. I usually spend over an hour per family. We often go to a local park. I sometimes cue an interaction, like: “Go ask your mommy what you’re going to have for dinner,” and then I take the time to let them interact naturally.
Renée: And your videos?
Stephanie: Videography is something I offer as an addition to a photo session And I just love making videos on the side as my own creative projects. My husband and I are both very family oriented, and I have tons of family footage I’m hoping to put together in videos some day. When I noticed how beautiful my friends’ hands were in motion, I realized I wanted more than still shots to capture what our hands do.
Renée: Do you have any healthy life tip about hands?
Stephanie: Yes! Get your hands massaged! We hold a lot of tension in our hands. It helps just to use one of your hands to massage the other.
Renée: Mahalo, Stephanie. I’m sure our readers will love watching your video below:
In the Hands of Artists!
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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)