Words by: Dina Ivkovich Art by: m.ink
I read somewhere that trying to capture New York City in a single frame is like trying to hold water — it slips through your fingers. The obstacle in this metaphor is our own hands, and the response by its original creator is this: ironically and kindly, fuck you.
Massachusetts-bred and New York-made, Hannah La Follette Ryan has made it her mission to deliver pixelated proof that hands are the ultimate synecdoche of a human’s being. In the limbo of daily train commutes as a portable nanny, La Follette Ryan’s 225k-boasting Instagram account @subwayhands serves as a candid catalogue of subway goers’ hands taken elusively (and unabashedly) by Hannah on her iPhone — a blended-in bystander who snaps 1:1 visual epics of New York’s day-to-day straphangers.
Within the familiarly mundane and vexingly claustrophobic air of public space that often warrants self-restraint, La Follette Ryan hopes to capture that which the hands inevitably betray in fleeting moments of intimate affection, lap-tapping, unease, hair-twirling or exhaustion not so freely made public by a face, let alone that of a knowing one. With over a thousand stealthily sweet posts of subconscious gestures to-date, fellow voyeurs are drip-fed daily finds of hands that are made foreign and coloured by their hungry interpretations of their beauty, outgrowing the bodies of those strangers who bear them.
@subwayhands has a marked way of reflecting unspoken moods, whether it be the change of season implied by a shift to knitwear, hands drumming against a pair of thighs balancing sheet music come exam period, or the anorexic assemble of flowers held in a water bottle for a waiting Valentine back at home. Recently, as the coronavirus pandemic has flared in New York City, La Follette Ryan has chronicled new brewing patterns that bleed the humbler realities of a city less boastful of its ‘never sleeping’ charm: sanitiser-squeezing, hand-lathering, rock climber-like crimps of standing poles, and Ventolin-cradlers.
La Follette Ryan evolves from a voyeuristic onlooker sharing each train line’s gems to a photojournalist wielding that intimate tone to unveil the aftermath of an outbreak in one of its most debilitated hotspots. @subwayhands has come to light an ominous glow stick to the way our hands have since become yellow-
taped hazards to ourselves and others in transmission of something wholly invisible and, for now, insurmountable beyond paranoid preventative measures.
I would talk to Hannah in the meeker months before our world got a collective cold. By accidental way of her celebrity burner account @paparazzifineartfan-account and for reasons that didn’t age so well, I would purchase a zine titled “Roasted”: a staple-spined jewellery box of literally roasted socialites basking in their salmon-pink hues on rented yachts, archiving the sunburnt likes of Simon Cowell, Paris Hilton and Alexander Skarsgård over the years. With only a one-time-at-band-camp-esque portrait in the “About the Author” page from which to define its creator, I would come to realise that this same urban force and gatekeeper to the realm of (subway)hand fetishism would shepherd my tech-ignorant butt through the process of setting up a PayPal account (a whole other story in itself).
Embarrassment aside, as well as some months, I would hold Hannah’s writing in my hands and marvel at the movie-like NYC address on the package I paid for, initially exclaiming: “wow, that’s so cool!”, then sobered from my romanticism by a crisis which would age the ink of those details into a message far less glittering. One of the humble weights of our hands, of handwriting, caution and, most of all, care for that which we can’t see. Be it the virus or those at risk from it. Except for those still loitering on their yachts with their leathery tans.
We see you.
Also, un-ironically: fuck you.