“My hands are really messed up,” she said, though she used stronger language. “I want you to take pictures of them.”
Maybe I should back up a bit. When I met my friend Rochelle, she was a promising young writer who was in love with (and often troubled by) food. A Food Network devotee, and rabid consumer of the best food writing around. She was also not just attractive, but self-consciously sexy, the kind of girl who would wear make-up and high heels to a college class instead of the more traditional sweatpants and hair scrunchy.
But she wanted more, and unlike so many, she was willing to suffer for it. She moved to New York, a place entirely devoted to testing yourself in face of misery. She dealt with the crazy landlords and ludicrous NYC prices, but nothing really compared to the challenge of learning to cook in world-class kitchens. She enrolled at the French Culinary Institute, and later started working at Aldea, currently one of the hottest hot spots in the world of NYC cuisine.
And it tested her, every day. Gone were the Manolo Blahniks, replaced by sensible shoes that would grip slippery kitchen floors. Gone was the make-up, which would just melt down her face after 16 hours standing in a steaming kitchen. She got screamed at by some of the best people in the business, constantly beaten-down so that she could be better. She tells these stories much better than I could on her blog.
And it showed, above all, in her hands. Once perfectly kept, they are currently bruised and grimy, scabbed and burned, with fingernails worn down and ragged. Hands of a worker, tempered by a thousand hot pans. These were battle scars, a mark of respect and transition.
So we took photos of them. I was even more excited because it was such an interesting challenge — how do you photograph someone’s messed-up hands and tell an evocative story? One that’s not about abuse, but self-abuse in cause of ambition (something I know a bit about, as my physical trainer will tell you)? I chose to play a lot with shadows and light, and it really helped me to approach a fresh project in new ways, something that I want to do a lot this year as I reach out and experiment.
To me, being a photojournalist merely means you tell stories through photography. I am usually blessed to tell the stories of people’s happiest days, and I love that. But to keep my photography fresh and evolving I need to also be driven in my personal work, and there are lots of other stories to tell. No matter whether I succeeded in making these photos evocative, though, they are photos of injuries, so I’ll keep the more explicit ones behind an HTML cut. (If you came here from a direct link, you won’t be blocked by the cut, so consider this your warning!) But first, let’s show her backstory with photos that I, for some reason, haven’t posted!
I think this one tells the story of where she came from succinctly. Note the cheeky smile and the dude checking her out.
Here’s one from the hands shoot that doesn’t show any of the burns much. If you’re not squeamish, click through to the link beyond.