In 2018, Paola Franqui, also known as Monaris, found herself in a little market in Helsinki, Finland. “I started noticing so many people walking with their hands behind their backs, one after the other,” she remembers. “I just started taking photos.” She explored the market for a couple of hours, and by the time she left, she’d photographed more than fifty people, each with the clasped hands. One held a map; another, a cigarette; a third, a pair of dress shoes.
For the next few years, as she traveled the world, she returned to that same motif, finding it across countries and cultures. Each pair of hands seemed to record the personal history of its owner. “This is something that I did mostly for me,” she says. “I started it because I loved it.” In August 2021, she found a permanent home for the work on the blockchain, selecting 30 photographs to be part of the 1/1 NFT collection Collecting Hands.
She did it all in one day, staying up late into the night to get the images uploaded onto OpenSea. “I didn’t plan it,” she admits. “I didn’t promote it. I just told one of my very good friends, Dave Krugman.” Krugman bought the first photograph in the collection, one of Monaris’s personal favorites. It’s a self-portrait evocative of Vivian Maier, featuring both the artist’s reflection in a store window and the goings-on inside. The clasped hands of a security guard, seen on the other side, sit at the center of the photographer’s chest, forming a beating heart.
The photographer J.N. Silva also supported the project, purchasing a pair of hands from the streets of New York City. The whole collection sold out in under an hour. The original pieces were listed for 0.3 ETH. As of this writing, the floor price is 1 ETH, with the highest last sale being 4 ETH, or the equivalent of $11,245.40. That one, made in Naples, Italy, is currently owned by the prolific photographer and collector Isaac “Drift” Wright.
Monaris comes from a rich history of artists enchanted by hands. In 1508, Albrecht Dürer drew hands in prayer. In The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787), Plato sits with his right hand placed atop his left, somberly, in his lap. Degas’s Little Dancer (c. 1880) features a ballet dancer with her hands clasped behind her back. In 1927, Berenice Abbott photographed the hands of Jean Cocteau.
The people in Monaris’s photographs are, by and large, strangers. “I think I would have to say that 90% of the hands in my collection are from strangers,” Monaris says. “I just like the mystery that comes with documenting these moments candidly. I like to come up with stories in my mind.”
Monaris is still collecting hands. She has hundreds upon hundreds of them now. The other day, she was at the beach when she saw a small child, maybe two years old, holding her hands behind her back, the same gesture she’s seen over and over, across the world. “What makes people do that?” she wondered. She didn’t photograph the little girl, but she remembers her well. “I was just waiting to get in the water when I saw her,” the artist says. “I didn’t have my phone or my camera or anything. It’s it was just one of those times where you take the photo in your mind, and you let it go.”
All images © Monaris