Hand Models Kiss-and-Tell Their Industry Secrets

“I left my job as a housing officer on a Friday, and by Monday I was hand modeling, holding a naked lady on top of me”. This is the career trajectory of John, as told in advertising photographers Oli Kellett and Alex Holder’s humorous book, Hand Jobs: Life as a Hand Model, published by Hoxton Mini Press. You may not have heard of John, or any of the featured artists in this gently irreverent book, but they number among the most famous hands in the advertising business. Sit up and take note.

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The overlooked stars of the advertising industry’s biggest campaigns are given their overdue credit in this series; being a hand model is no easy job, and finding 24 different ways to peel a banana isn’t the weirdest project the subjects have had to work on. Featuring 24 portraits and corresponding insights from the models, this book flips hand modelling on its head, and focuses on the face.

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We spoke Oli, one half of the duo behind the publication, to find out more.

The Plus: What made you decide to work on Hand Jobs?
Oli Kellett:
The project came about 5 years or so ago when Alex and I were planning a new project to work on. She suggested a project called Head Shots of Hand Models, which is exactly what it sounds like. Alex and I used to work together as a creative team in a few different London advertising agencies coming up with ideas for TV and print ads. I left to work as a photographer in 2008, and Alex carried on to become a Creative Director.

The title was actually a joke title for a long time. The project was always called Hand Jobs between Alex and me privately. When the publisher reminded us that we needed a title, it just seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

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TP: How did the collaboration between you and Alex come about?
OK:
We met at St Martins Art College in London, and then went to work at a few different London advertising agencies. We worked together every day for about 4 years before I left to become a photographer. We stayed good friends, and have collaborated on a few different projects since. Hand Jobs was one of them.

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TP: What was it like doing portraits of models who are used to the focus being on their hands?
OK:
Although these models have all had their hands photographed many times, they have never had their faces shot. So the models were quite nervous about the whole process. I was just trying to be truthful to them. I didn’t direct them emotionally, only into compositions that I thought would work.

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TP: What have you learnt about the hand-modelling profession? What is your favourite style of peeling a banana?
OK:
Well I’ve learnt that it is a very tough profession. You don’t realise how many times you injure your hands – paper cuts, burning on the oven, and so on – and hand models can’t let this happen. So they are always being super careful about their hands, which is hard work.

Funnily enough I can’t stand bananas!

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TP: What do you appreciate most about your collaborator’s style?
OK:
Alex always has enthusiasm for ideas which appeal to everyone, which comes from working in advertising I think.

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Hand Jobs is available now on Hoxton Mini Press.