Turning the photographic eye on particular parts of the human body was a distinctively 20th-century phenomenon – perhaps a latent metaphor for the fragmentation of the modern condition itself. The hands and the eyes, which lie at the root of the photographer’s craft, have been particularly privileged within the modern ‘focus on the fragment’.
An example is Imogen Cunningham’s (1883-1976) ‘Hands Reading Braille’. The pale hands, which emerge from a diffuse blackness – evocative of the man’s blindness – sit over white braille paper. The striking composition, and contrasting shade and light, suggest it is through the man’s hands, through touch, that he is able to reach out and ‘see’ in the darkness. The details of the bodily ‘fragment’ – the skin creases, protuding veins and tidy nails – accentuate the man’s profound humanity. Altogether this feels a quiet but potent image.