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Speaking with Hands

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Speaking with Hands: Photographs from the Buhl Collection

Contributions by Jennifer Blessing, Kirsten A. Hoving, and Ralph Rugoff
Published in 2004
264 pages, fully illustrated
Hardcover and softcover

In October 1993, Henry M. Buhl purchased a photograph by Alfred Stieglitz of Georgia O’Keeffe’s hands. This photograph would come to be the cornerstone of a private collection that now includes over one thousand images by the medium’s foremost practitioners as well as little-known and emerging artists. Focusing on the theme of the hand, Buhl has gathered images spanning the history of photography, from a photogenic drawing negative made in 1840 by William Henry Fox Talbot to serial Polaroids made in 2002 by Cornelia Parker. The collection also encompasses a comprehensive range of photographic practices, including scientific, journalistic, and fine-art photography, with a strong component of contemporary art.

Published on the occasion of a major exhibition drawn from The Buhl Collection, this book demonstrates the prevalence of the hand as a photographic theme, a result, in part, of photography’s easy ability to capture fragments and detail, as well as ephemeral movement. The selected works depict the hand literally, in the context of portraiture, for example, as well as figuratively, in terms of the poetic emphasis given to hand gestures in documentary images. In artistic images created from the 1920s to the present, the hand is abstracted and subsequently treated as a conceptual device.

Jennifer Blessing explores the nature of collecting photographs and why hands are in many ways a uniquely photographic theme. Kirsten A. Hoving emphasizes the prevalence of hands in Surrealist photographs and prose. Ralph Rugoff discusses the uncanny aspects of hands in contemporary art that uses photography. The catalogue entries, written by Matthew S. Witkovsky with Melanie Mariño and Nat Trotman, cover 150 artists and 168 works, forming a useful resource for the study of the history of photography.

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