Hannah La Follette Ryan is the person behind the Instagram account @subwayhands. She has been fascinated by hands for a while now. Hannah takes photos of people’s hands on the New York subway. Most of the time she just sneakily snaps them on her phone while commuting. People rarely even notice that they’re the subject of her photography. No one expects to have pictures of their hands taken and since Hannah doesn’t use a big camera and doesn’t try to take portraits — her subjects remain anonymous and unaware.
However, as she said, hands can reveal much more than the face. We all subconsciously clench out hands, make gestures, the tension after a stressful day is sometimes way more visible in the hands that it is in the face when you’re in public. We don’t think to hide our hands, we only think to hide the emotions on our face. So hands can be incredibly revealing.
A couple holding hands on the subway conveys love and closeness, a man clenching fists reveals anger, a woman wringing her hands shows signs of stress and worry, so do bitten nails. Next time you’re on the subway try to pay attention to people’s hands — you’ll learn a lot about them.
Taking photos of hands on the subway can reflect the city’s mood and attitude, it can also showcase the recent trends. What nail polish color is most popular, what kind of manicure is trending, what accessories are in this season, even what the most popular model of a cellphone can be determined by just looking at people’s hands on the subway.
In the past, that’s exactly what we’ve been able to see on Hannah’s Instagram, but in the light of the recent pandemic and the quarantine in NYC, her photos are showing people’s concern. These days people don’t hold hands, they keep their distance, they use clothes and tissues to hold on to the railings. People constantly carry hand sanitizer and rub it on their hands. Some have started wearing gloves, leather, rubber, nitrile ones, people try to protect themselves against COVID-19 in any way they can.
These are all signs that something big is coming and we all feel it, so we adapt and change to accommodate and protect ourselves. Who knew you could learn so much from photos of people’s hands on the subway?