Hands of Poets

Viktor Karlík

The idea of photographing hands of poets first crossed my mind at the beginning of the 1990s. I told Robert Portel about it, who helped me accomplish the project. Without his help and generosity the whole thing would have been very difficult.
Thinking of the matter after more than ten years, I realize that compared to faces, hands cannot “feign” too much. Except for rings, gloves and sleeves, their owners have at their disposal only a few means of obscuring who they are. Nails, possibly, especially women’s nails, might provide some extra room for changes; but that’s about it.
In the present condition when it is so easy to manipulate one’s physical appearance to a greater extent than ever, hands – being of little interest for plastic surgeons’ clients – can tell more about their owners than it meets the eye.
If we had – instead of portraits of upper limbs (or their ends) – the same amount of heads depicted from the front and behind, we would get the following: eyelids, lips, tongue, eyebrows – all these are options of face “movement”. (Glasses, beard, hair, make-up left aside.)
That is more difficult for a hand to do; especially if the task the poets were given was to stretch the fingers and spread the hands on the table.
Often I had to touch the poets’ hands so that the composition would be just right.
From a certain point of view, a hand might look like a fish drawn out of water and placed on the table. It appears the same way all the living creatures do – natural, but rather alarming at the same time. A little naked and harmless, too. I’m talking of a hand with stretched fingers, of course. Clenched in fist, a hand ceases to be naked.
Poems are undoubtedly written with hands, or, rather, just with the more skillful one. However, when the writer types, the poem is created by the other “colleague”, too. Fingers, extensions of thought, either clutch the writing instrument (one can also engrave), or touch the keyboard. Strokes at a typewriter, touches at a computer. Obviously, a poem might be created in one’s mouth, too; hands then create only the poem’s written record, e.g. from a tape (one can also dictate to hired hands).
Creating a poem in another way, i.e. realizing poetry through cutting, gluing, crumpling or knotting, is hardly possible without hands, as Jiří Kolář clearly demonstrated. Even the computer mouse lives in one’s palm, being controlled with an index finger. It is then beyond any doubt that poems owe their lives to hands.
I never wanted to come up with a kind of “register” of the poets’ hands: that was not the point at all. Nevertheless, when the first poet died, whose hands are included in the whole set, it became sort of clearer what lies before the other poets, and the rest of us, too. That certainly is nothing surprising. “What happens after death” is something no hands can ever answer. There is some certainty in that.

(in: Viktor Karlík, Hands of Poets, Prague 2005, p. 7-8)

Egon Bondy - Ivan Diviš - Miloš Doležal - Bohumila Grögerová - Petr Halmay - Jiřina Hauková - Zbyněk Hejda - Josef Hiršal - Ivan Jelínek - Ivan M. Jirous - Jiří Kolář - Pavel Kolmačka - Vít Kremlička - J. H. Krchovský - Luděk Marks - Ladislav Novák - Petr Placák - Naděžda Plíšková - Andrej Stankovič - Jáchym Topol - Josef Topol - Ivo Vodseďálek - Ivan Wernisch - Jaromír Zelenka

Viktor Karlík
Egon Bondy 1996
Viktor Karlík
Jiří Kolář 1994
Viktor Karlík
J.H.Krchovský 1997
Viktor Karlík Viktor Karlík Viktor Karlík Viktor Karlík