‘The Personalities of Hands’


10/21/16 – 11/25/16


Opening Reception and Book signing

Friday October 21 2016.



SCCC Gallery ‘C’ building

1 College Hill Road.

Newton, NJ 07860.

973 300 2100


The Personalities of Hands

Bill Westheimer

ìThe eyes may be the windows of the soul, but hands reveal our humanity.

With our hands we grasp the world. Hands are used as weapons yet they can also heal the sick ñ they can caress or crush. There are chakras in our hands and worshipers stand with palms raised. Fortune tellers unveil our futures and reveal our pasts in our palms, while handwriting is analyzed to expose our deepest secrets. Hands hold our absolute legal identities in the fingerprints which make each of us unique. Touch is one of our most perceptive senses. Hands distinguish humans from lower species.

While we control our world with our hands, the hands themselves are also shaped by our worlds. People who work with their hands ñ doctors, sculptors, magicians ñ reveal their histories in their hands, whether itís their softness from being protected in surgical gloves, nicks and burns from working with tools, or flexibility and grace from performing prestidigitation.  I love to make portraits, but I prefer to view my subjects from my own angle. MANUAL is a collection of portraits of people from diverse backgrounds, occupations, ages, and cultures from around the globe. In each hand portrait, I study the personís dominant hand, checking it for evidence of how they have lived, who they are, and what they may become.

I collaborate with my subjects to expose their hands and their personalities. Without the distraction of faces, these images become honest and deeply perceptive portraits, reflecting the lifestyle, habits, and sensitivity of each subject.  Using 19th century collodion wet-plate techniques, I photographed each personís dominant hand. The

photograph makes a richly detailed image with special tonalities exposed by the mediumís sensitivity to blue wavelengths of light. The 5.5î x 4.25î glass plate negatives are contact printed using 19th century salt print methods on 11' x 8.5î water color paper. The 5.5î x 4.25î glass plate negatives are also digitally scanned and enlarged for archival pigmented ink prints.

Each person also collaborates with me to create a 14î x 11î silver gelatin photogram of their hand. A photogram is like an x-ray but made using visible light instead of x-rays. In the darkroom the subject places their hand on a piece of B&W photo paper and the light is turned on. The paper is developed and the image appears. And finally each subject provides a hand written statement.

The 3 elements: glass plate, photogram, and handwriting are scanned and combined into one portrait of the individual which is archivally printed 15î x 22î using pigmented inks. Selected portraits are also archivally printed 40î x 60î.  The series comprises 150 portraits (on view at that reflect the diversity and the commonalities of humanity.  A large format trade edition book MANUAL: The Personalities of Hands is available from Amazon or direct from Petey Pie Press which includes 70 of the 150 portraits. Also available is MANUAL a limited edition small scale handmade book including 25 of the portraits which was created in collaboration with Leonard Seastone of Tideline Press. I have also produced two new 3D printed editions of artists books of the images.

Text by Kulvinder Kaur Dhew

MANUAL: The Personalities of Hands is a fine art exhibition and a book of portraits with a twist: personal stories and private secrets told through images of hands. Readers witness the diverse range of humanity through photographs and photograms of hands rather than traditional pictures of faces. Westheimer has captured the hands of 150 people from diverse walks of life, including a priest, rock star, trapeze artist, mentalist and politician. 78 of the portraits appear in the 96 page full color book. 


Since making his first photograph at age 14, Westheimer has been fascinated with alternative processes including holography, solarization, and high contrast imagery. At Union College Bill studied with noted painter and educator Arnold Bittelman. He continued with his experiments in photography and experimental image making while completing college.

Additionally, he studied with Jerry Burchfield who introduced him to color photograms and Cibachrome (Ilfochrome) printing. Bill went on to teach Cibachrome printing at Colorado Mountain College in Aspen. He learned the 19thcentury technique of collodion glass plate photography from the leading experts in the field: France Scully and Mark Osterman.

Sussex County Community College is delighted to announce MANUAL: The Personalities of Hands at the Art Gallery in C building. Bill Westheimer will be signing his book during the Opening Reception.


His works are exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide.

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