snap: “Why do you want pictures of these gnarled old things?”

April 11, 2012

I think it was my good friend the music philosopher Chuck D, or @MrChuckD as he’s known to his friends, who wrote on Twitter a year or so ago something to this effect:

“Hey you kids. Those phones are not just for texting and downloading Public Enemy songs. They’re recording devices and your story begins with the oldest person in your family. Now go.”

I’m elaborating of course. He did it in 140 characters. And I don’t as a rule do whatever Chuck says. But I did think of him on my recent trip home to Winnipeg, visiting as I did with friends and relatives, including the eldest of my late husband’s family.

These are the hands of Viola Best, age 93, Shaun’s grandmother. I asked to take the photos of her hands (originally posted on Instagram) because I thought she’d be too self-conscious to let me photograph her face, perfect though it is. In the end, the hands say more. Rings for love, spots for the ages of a well-lived life, barely visible nicks and dings from years of cleaning and cooking, hands that I’ve held with the quick joy of her tart, bald humour and with the pain of Shaun’s passing last summer.

"Why do you want to take pictures of these gnarled old things?" Photo by Denise Duguay, all rights reserved.

"Are you going to put these photos in the paper? If you do and somebody asks me I'm going to say it was your crazy idea." Photo by Denise Duguay, all rights reserved.

Denise Duguay



  1. I love this! “Your story begins with the oldest person in your family’ – unlike other cultures, we Westerners seem to have little respect for our elderly. Way to start changing that! I’m with you. My mom recorded my grandmother on several tapes many years ago, speaking about the war etc – it’s incredible to have that now…

    • Wow. Very cool. Do you have that audio in digital format?

  2. haven’t thought of this in, well, a couple of years. my mother died just over two years ago and until she went into a nursing home, i was her primary care giver. seeing these pictures reminds me of visiting her in the nursing home and holding her hands and feeling the love(tho she was a hard person to like at times) and life in her thin skin and bones of her hands. tears in my eyes. thank you.

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