Descriptive Anatomy: Interview with Photographer Verena Frye

Descriptive Anatomy: Interview with Photographer Verena Frye

In this interview with photographer Verena Frye she talks about her project Descriptive Anatomy which puts a focus on tattooed hands.

It is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul...but if you have tattoos, this may not hold true. For many people illustrations on skin are a deep form of expression. They literally wear their beliefs, philosophies, memories, cherished loves and more on their sleeves; their body forever marked by integral and personal images. This is part of what Verena Frye is so enamored with. 

A freelance photographer based in Berlin, Verena Frye started the Descriptive Anatomy project almost six years ago. Traveling the globe, she captures the images of tattooed hands holding objects...each photograph a small intimate glimpse into another persons life. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, how you came to be a photographer, and why you work with analog film?

I'm half Brazilian, half German and I was born and raised in Berlin. When I was 15, I decided that I wanted to become a photographer so after I finished high school and did some internships I started my three years of photography studies at Lette-Verein in Berlin. We were only allowed to photograph analog there in the first year so this is how I got into it. We had to shoot in all formats, from 35mm to big formats, and develop and print everything ourselves which taught me a lot.

After I graduated I did an internship with Rankin in London. Now I'm working as a freelance photographer mostly between Berlin and São Paulo.

How did the project start, and why was the name "Descriptive Anatomy" chosen?

The project was my first uni project when I was studying photography. I did an exhibition in Berlin with 20 photographs in 2014 and then decided that I wanted to continue until I could publish it as a book.

The name Descriptive Anatomy is inspired from the primary anatomy method which dealt with patients by looking at their outside to characterize and diagnose their inside. This is what this series is about: how much of a person's character, life experiences and personality can one decipher only by looking at their hands?

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How do you choose your subjects, and the objects that they hold?

The only feature someone actually had to have when I asked them to model was to have tattooed hands. In the beginning I asked my friends and acquaintances and then I started to ask people I met in real life or over social media. When the project became a bit more known I also got requests of people who wanted to be part of it. I just always wanted to make sure to have a chat with every person and not rush just to get the body of work together quickly. It wouldn't really have been possible anyway as every person in the book was asked to chose an item that they like or that represents them to hold for the photo, so they actually had to think about it...especially as the objects were not allowed to be repeated which made it a bit more tricky.

Why do you think hands are such a powerful statement? What draws you to them yourself?

What inspired me to photograph tattooed hands is when I noticed that they make a person extremely recognizable even if you only see their hands - on a photo for example. When you chose to get tattooed on your hands you are giving up some part of your anonymity. When you look on any kind of hand you will always be able to read something out of it due to it's marks, scars, shape, lines and other aspects. So, if you have shapes or symbols tattooed on it you give even more room for interpretation. Some people more and some less for sure. This is why my models were asked to chose something to hold so it added an extra level of character.

What has the reaction been from the people you take pictures of for this project?

It has been extremely positive and supportive! I'm really grateful to everyone who is part of the project. The crowdfunding campaign for the book ended recently very successfully (also a big thank you to Tattoodo for your contribution!) and I couldn't have made it without the amazing support on social media by everyone involved. A lot of people who were photographed also purchased their own limited print which is so great as it shows me how much they appreciate their Descriptive Anatomy photograph.

How long has the project been going on, and what will the culmination of the project be?

I took the first photo in October 2013 so it's been going on for almost six years. The culmination of the project will for sure be the launch of the book which will happen this year.

To learn more about Verena, and to support her project, check out the Kickstarter and her website. Her video series Tattooed Hands Talk is also available on YouTube. Below is her conversation with Tattoodo Ambassador Guen Douglas!

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