The illness had changed my life neurologically, and I found myself wanting to have more physical contact with others, to interact not just with words. In places where I didn’t know the language, that really helped.
When I approached strangers with a camera, a lot of them would say or gesture, “No, go away! I don’t want you to take my picture.”
I’d answer, “I’m just interested in your hands. Here let me show you.”
I would give them my hand to play with and invite their friends and family members to join in, and we'd dance with our fingers and create sculptures with our hands.. With kids, I’d teach them to thumb wrestle. We’d have fun and laugh, and everyone would begin to relax and smile.
After a while, some of the people would ask, “So when are you going to take my picture?”
I learned to balance my camera so I could engage them with one hand while photographing with the other. Many people didn’t want to break the physical connection between us while I was photographing them.
Some would hold on to my hand for a long time, even after I was done - older people especially. I suspect they didn’t want to let go because they didn’t get much physical affection from anybody else. Perhaps they felt acknowledged. Someone was paying attention to them. They were not invisible.
The first few times I succeeded in reaching out to others in that way - spending time, talking, listening and playing with them - I felt complete and fulfilled. I felt fed! I still had a life! It wasn’t the same as before, but it mattered to me. I could make a difference in people’s lives, if only for a moment, and I was happy to do so. And I realized that it made me happy, too.
It has taken me quite a while to be honest with myself, sometimes painfully so, to acknowledge that touching people with my hands is a way of caring, a gesture that takes the place of not being able to pursue my chosen field of emergency medicine anymore.
I see these photographs as part of my journey to fill the void, to find meaning and a sense of purpose through art that includes just a little human touch; and I want to share them with you.
Maybe you, too, have lost something important, something that feels as big as your life, and just as irreplaceable. Don’t despair. Rock on. There is another life out there waiting for you.
Copyright 2017. Betsy Gertz. All rights reserved.
Through Betsy's Lens
"For me, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture." Diane Arbus