Expressive Hands

I’ve taken many photographs of my older brother who is autistic, profoundly retarded and has never spoken. Many of my earlier photographs of him seem to capture hands. Sometimes the hand belongs to him, sometimes my hand is in the picture. Conventional wisdom is that a portrait photograph is about the subject and the photographer. However, this is not the case with my brother. He does not react. When I used a short (28mm) lens, I was able to capture my direct involvement with Mike and with the picture. Here are a couple of examples from a long time ago:

Autistic Mike and Brother

Autistic Mike hitting himself

We are a lot older now

My brother and I are both boomers. I live on the West Coast and he is in a group home on the East Coast, so I don’t get to visit. I spent the first 11 months of last year recapping my efforts to make some kind of connection with Mike. My other brother, my mother and I went to visit him this past November and he did not seem to recognize us. This is no surprise. I never ever knew if he recognized me on our regular visits to Willowbrook, when it was a (dys)functional institution on Staten Island. Since the most recent visit, I changed the emphasis of my blog to try to be able to better express myself rather than trying to untangle the Gordian Knot of what my relationship was with my brother, which would still be a never-ending guessing game with no correct answer.

Visual expression

I have a pretty good visual sense, so I decided to try expressing the essence of my relationship with Mike with watercolors. The obvious feature of our relationship as it seems to me is isolation. Therefore I created several watercolors, which I call the ‘Barrier Series’: Back to Abstract?VariationMy NicheSketchingBarrier #5 Completed.

Since hands seem to feature prominently in my photographs, I will be using them in my watercolors. Perhaps I can develop some kind of iconography with them, as I have with other symbols. I am hoping that, with the addition of hands and gestures to my watercolor studies, I will be able to open up a new direction for self expression.

First study

I love the photograph below. Mike is with his friend P___. I was struck, not only the contrast between her gaze and his, but also by the prominence of hands.

autism sibling girlfriend

In my sketch below, I replace P___, but as an observer. Mike and I also seem to be on different planes of existence.

Dual watercolor portrait of my brother and me 1-20-14

Sketch: Mike and Me
4″x10″ 140# Watercolor Block

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