These two images of my mother's hands are part of a new project I'm working on; a long term project to create portraits of people through the stories that hands tell. In discussing portraits with students and other photographers, it's often talked about what does and doesn't constitute a "portrait". I always liked Picasso's reply after painting a commissioned portrait of Gertrude Stein. When it was remarked that it didn't really look like the author, Picasso said simply, "it will."
I like to get photographers thinking differently about what a portrait is. On one hand, every image you make is a kind of self-portait. Landscapes, seascapes, iPhone images all say something about you. Your sensibility chose that subject, photographed it in that way, to express something within you. Even when you portray another person, it says something, not only about you as the artist, but also about your subject. It also speaks about the relationship between you.
A portrait like the one Avedon made of ballet star Rudolph Nureyev, showing just his barefoot en pointe, says so much about both artists without the need to show more. A face is not a portrait, at least, it's not the only thing that defines a portrait.
When creating portraits, step outside of the norm as to what most think a portrait is, and find ways to show what is unique, interesting, and deeper about your subject than simply having them look straight into the camera (although that can make compelling images too!). Look for a way to tell the story of your subject that is unique to you both.
My portrait project on hands is about discovering the story they tell about us: about the things we've created with them, the things we've destroyed with them, and the things we've loved with them. All of our life experiences can be displayed in hands (or feet)!