Cosas: Paul Stevenson Oles' 'Rescue'

Paul Stevenson Oles, Rescue

Ever since his undergraduate days in the late 1950s, local architect Paul Stevenson Oles has been fascinated by the possibilities for rendering hands artistically. For his new book, Hands (Rush Creek Editions, 108 pages, $35 paperback, $45 hardbound), Oles shot 50 photographs of his own hands that explore a range of artistic representation.

Rescue stands out because it suggests a narrative. One hand reaches down to another, holding it by its index finger in a tenuous grasp.

“I think it suggests someone who’s drowning,” says Oles, whose photograph contains a series of contrasts. In remarkably detailed silvery tones, the hands stand out against a greyscale background that transitions in tone from bottom to top.

“One of the things I really like about the image is that it goes from very dark at the bottom to very light at the top,” Oles says. “The dark part seems like a quagmire, or chaos, doom, night — all of those dark things. It’s almost a counterchange: a light hand against a dark image on the bottom and a dark hand against a light image at the top. That’s one of the classic graphic devices that almost always works.”

Accompanying the image on a facing page is a quote by novelist Dean Koontz: “People precious to us are frighteningly mortal, hanging by not even a thread, but by a wisp of Gossamer.” Rescue captures a sense of desperation, but also aid and support.

Hands is organized in two parts, with compositions suggesting negativity occupying the first half of the book and images of positivity occupying the second. It’s also arranged alphabetically. Rescue comes towards the back of the second half, among images of hope, faith, and aspiration.

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