• Jamie Napoli: Rowers’ Hands

    Self-Portrait With Calusses

    Posted on April 15, 2011 by Jamie Napoli

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    ………As a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s lightweight rowing program who walked on to the team in my freshman year without any prior rowing experience, I have experienced both the sentiments and perceptions of an outsider to this community, apprehending and judging it from afar, and also those of an integral member of the team, deeply immersed in its social skein. One aspect of the rowing identity that strikes me as peculiar is the apparent disparity between the work required to excel in this sport and the gratification it requites. While I spend approximately the same amount, if not more of my time rowing each day than I do in class, and while I have come to regard my practice times as the strenuous portions of my days, with class and class work serving as a relatively comfortable respite from rowing, the actual remuneration offered me by academic success far outweighs that offered by rowing. When I finish school here in a little over a year, I will graduate from the University, not the rowing program. My diploma will list my majors, not my extracurricular. The skills that I learn in my classes each day will propel me forward to excel in graduate school and in my future career, whereas my proficiency as a rower will be quickly forgotten. While there is no doubt in my mind that I love rowing and I would not exchange for all the “A’s” Penn has to offer my experiences on this team, the friends I have made, the intense moments of glory, and the constant presence of satisfaction at my ability to persevere, I cannot help but lament the ephemeral nature of this pleasure, and the sadness its lack will produce once it has passed.
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    Rowers' Hands


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    One of the most salient signifiers of a rower is the physical damage inflicted on his hands. I am recognized as a rower more often by the wounds and calluses covering my palms and fingers than by any other facet of my appearance. For some of my teammates, this recognition serves as a source of pride, and thus they wear their beaten hands as badges of their abilities to endure. For others, their hands represent weakness, softness of skin, and they seek to conceal them or punish them further by not taking care of their wounds. Still others feel contempt for their tortured hands only when they are outside of the rowing environment, and fear that this signifier of their physical toughness will be misconstrued as frailty or indicative of some sort of sickness.

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    Rowers' Hands

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    My goal in this assignment is to convey a broad spectrum of rowers’ sentiments towards their hands, these ambiguous signifiers, these paltry vessels of recognition for such an unappreciated community. I have approached the actualization of this concept as a sequence of double portraits. Each print will contain both a portrait of the subject with his hands on display and a close up shot of his hands gripping an oar handle. The relationship between the subject and his hands will be demonstrated not only through each of the two images individually, but also in the various formal methods I will use to juxtapose the images.

    About The Author: Jamie Napoli is enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2012.


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