Even if you don’t live in New York City, you know that the subway has its own reputation. Between performers on the platforms and the weirdos encountered on a day-to-day basis, there’s a lot to say about the subway system in New York.
But Hannah La Follette Ryan, a 28-year-old nanny and hobby photographer originally from Massachusetts, hones in on a very specific part of the New York subway -- people’s hands. Her Instagram account, Subway Hands, is a collection of close up photographs of hands on the subway, and there’s a pretty broad variety of what the hands are doing.
Between holding a book, scrolling through a phone and having something to eat, Ryan captures life on the NYC subway, and while that doesn’t necessarily sound enticing -- or even very exciting -- it’s actually somewhat fascinating.
Ryan never includes faces or any real distinguishing features of the people she’s photographing, so you’re left to wonder who is behind the hands and what their story is: whether the two clasped hands is a couple or a mother and daughter, for example.
“Trying to capture NYC in one frame or one drawing is like holding water -- it slips through your fingers,” Ryan told Vice. “I like the idea that maybe one day you could make a mosaic of my photos and get a larger and more complete image of New York.”
The photos have been collected over three years of Ryan’s daily commute on the subway system -- TBH, maybe I’ll start an account for Boston’s transit system to make my own commutes more interesting. It’s definitely taught Ryan a lot about human nature.
“When I’m loitering to take a photo and accidentally catch someone’s eye, the first thing they do is reposition their hands,” she said.
The New York Times interpreted Ryan’s photos in a more specific way, focusing on how just a photograph of someone’s hands can convey love. Though the subway system is decidedly not the most romantic place, Ryan’s ability to find those little pockets of affection is sweet.
“I was amazed by all the tenderness I witnessed,” she told the Times. “Arms draped over shoulders, legs across laps, fingers interlaced.”
Whatever you say about the subway, Ryan’s work is shining another light on all the regular people like us who ride it.