These Hand Portraits Offer a Snapshot of Life Around the World

'Soldier' | © Omar Reda

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the hands are a window to the past. The impulse to grab comes in the earliest weeks of life and our innate desire to interact with the world around us often puts our prized appendages at risk. Every line and scar tells its own story, from run-ins with a piping hot kettle to injuries with DIY gone array.

In his latest series, Hands: The Story of Life, photographer Omar Reda shows how palms can be just as expressive as faces – particularly those of artisans, whose work carves its effects onto the skin. The project, which began almost a year ago, started at a Tanzanian coffee farm when Reda asked a farmer for her picture. ‘She got completely surprised by the request because asking for a hand portrait is so weird.’ Reda would go on to experience this reaction in most places he went.

‘Most of the time I walk hours across a city without taking a single shot, because the palms weren’t detailed enough, or I got rejected because most people are familiar with regular style of photography and some were afraid I was a police officer taking fingerprints.’

‘Holy Man’
‘Tribal Boy’ approximately three years old

‘In the beginning my focus was on farmers, carpenters, masons, etc… But an experience with a Maasai tribe widened my subjects to young and old. When you zoom in on the hand of a Maasai boy – his nails and skin – you feel how life in the East African tribe has taken its toll.’

‘Holy Man 5’

‘Another special hand is the one of an Indian holy man, or sadhu, with a deformed finger. I was hesitant to ask him for a photo, but I really wanted the shot. He was so friendly with the request.’ From gurus in India to tribespeople in Africa, Reda’s project has already taken him to some amazing locations. ‘Hopefully, it will be a continuous series; I will try to focus on hands that have special features and I still have many nationalities I want to cover.’

‘Tribal Elderly Woman’

For more of Omar Reda’s work you can follow the photographer on Instagram. Interested in travel photography? You might also like ELEMENTS, a new London exhibition launching in April 2017; how award-winning photographer Rosie Matheson captured Hawaii’s Pono culture on camera; or this behind-the-scenes look at New Zealand’s toughest gang.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article