Miyako Ishiuchi

Throughout the entire year of 1988, Miyako Ishiuchi, 42 years old at the time, photographed the hands and feet of women the same age as herself. In her photographs, Ishiuchi focused on fingers and ankles, wrinkled toes and hangnails, all of them standing out only faintly from the gloomy background.
These delicate fingers and toes, with their deep wrinkles and thin nails, with each woman’s occupation listed in the captions, stimulate their viewer. Inevitably, we think about the roads these women have taken in life, we imagine the furthest depths of their personalities.

「1・9・4・7 #9」Beauty Parlor Assistant © Ishiuchi Miyako

‘The body is a vessel for time and air’, says Ishiuchi, and compares the process of photographing these hands and feet, weathered by the air and marked by time, to ‘gathering fragments of peeled off skin’. By expressing the body’s age through photographs of familiar bodyparts, details that are overlooked in everyday life — the joints of fingers, the shape of a foot’s sole, hardened parts of the skin, traces left by long-healed injuries, small changes that the nails have undergone — emerge with an unexpected strength of expression.

I would argue that the photographic eye required to capture the body’s age is the polar opposite of the photographic eye that looks at a model’s hands for fashion or advertising purposes. The hands of the model, photographed together with the product to be advertised, are slim and smooth, and the beauty that is pursued here reflects the values of a consumer society that treats the body like it treats products. Any traces of injuries or damage caused by the passage of time are erased. Ishiuchi’s act of gathering women of her own age and fixating on the scars and marks that life left them with is perhaps motivated by Ishiuchi’s desire to compare her own body’s experience to those of her subjects.

「1・9・4・7 #11」Pub Manager © Ishiuchi Miyako

I was in my 20s when I first encountered this book. I still remember very clearly how deeply the feet and hands in Ishiuchi’s closeup photographs had affected me. Browsing through the book now, as a woman in her 40s, my hands touching the pages and the hands in the picture resemble each other. And as I reflect the many months and years that I have lived through, I notice in myself a peculiar bond of affection for each of the women in the photos.

Mika Kobayashi

Photography researcher

Active in many fields including conducting lectures and workshops on Japanese and international photography, planning exhibitions and contributing to magazines.

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