Hands down, the best photo essay we’ve published

As the three photojournalism classes embarked on the WRKxFMLY project, they noticed an unmistakable visual thread that connected their images into one visual tapestry

For the fourth consecutive year, McCallum photojournalists are participating in the WRKxFMLY project, which encourages student participants to capture images and write captions that explore the intersection of work and family in their lives. The project has been a fertile ground for powerful student images in the past, and this year was not exception. What was different this year, however, is that we noticed a certain visual motif in some of our favorite photographs: hands as a focal point.

Photography Tim Booth, who has created an amazing catalog of portraits of people only by capturing images of their hands, explained why it’s such a useful approach to photography.

“Faces trigger immediate responses from the viewer, we are all hard-wired to lock into the eyes, nose and mouth of a face, and are sub-consciously attracted or repelled by the configuration,” he writes on the website for his amazing project, A Show of Hands. “Clouded by pre-conceptions and biological reaction, the face almost becomes a barrier to seeing the person, especially if their face is recognisable. Focusing just on the hands puts all the subjects on even ground, and forces the viewer to look beyond the expected and see, perhaps for the first time, a more approachable and everyday humanity in the sitter.”

We weren’t trying to illustrate the wisdom in Booth’s statement, but we think we may have done so anyway. In addition of being a window in each person, hands are also a universalizing motif. Seeing the handiwork of others as they navigate their work lives and their family lives, we see we think more readily the commonality between their lives and ours.

THE CONSTANT REMINDER: Isabella Dietz lays in her bed and checks her BLEND app on her phone. Due to the app being on her phone, school is constantly with her. Technology has lessened the separation students have from school and home. Especially with the pandemic due to many students learning from home. Photo by Francesca Dietz.


EARLY BIRD EDUCATION: Before she even leaves her bed, my sister, Ruby, is attending school virtually. Accompanied by Mouse, she’s already ready to learn. The lack of having to go to a building cramped with hundreds of other kids certainly makes our morning rituals much less complicated. Photo and caption by Julian Magee.

CALLS BEFORE COFFEE: My mom wakes up to make morning coffee for herself and me while taking work calls. Before breakfast, she confirms her plant and material delivery times for her landscape design business. Today’s deliveries were not on schedule; she is not pleased. Photo by Amaya Collier.


EARLY MORNING HAIR: Every morning before my sisters go to school, my mom does my younger sister’s hair, and I got a picture yesterday morning of her getting her hair brushed. Photo by Hadlee Varela.

CUT OF MANY COLORS: My mom has been teaching in East Austin for thirty years. The students at her school are eighty-nine percent economically disadvantaged and thirty-four percent English language learners. With Mother’s Day coming up, she wanted to help her students make sure that they understood the importance of having a mother and thanking them for everything that they do for you. She created sets of 7 pieces of tissue paper for each of her students to make a flower for their mom. The biggest reward for my mom is to see her students happy and proud of themselves. When they finished the project, each student had the brightest smile on their face. When she came back home, she was glowing with happiness about another successful day at work. I hope to one day have the same pride in my work, as my mom does serving her community. Photo by Ariana Mendez.

A LONG READ: My Mother reading Purple Hibiscus to me and our dog, Jake. After a long day teaching my mother still has time to read me Purple Hibiscus per one of my academic accommodations. The book assigned by my pre-AP English II teacher. This has helped my stay up to date with the rest of the class. Photo by Will Myren.

MARIAH: Mariah Davis is great. Davis is shy and outgoing all at once, despite her not knowing it. She is beautiful and has a beautiful soul and overall an amazing person to know. She doesn’t open up very easy and I am continuing to get to know her, inside and out. Mariah always seems happy to see me and work with me. To me, she is a dragonfly, a caretaker, a giver, a protector, and that one girl who would back me up anytime. I enjoy being in her life, even if it is only at work and I hope she enjoys being in mine. Photo by ElizaBess Estrada.

ISOLATED BUT TOGETHER: Even though work and home now overlap more than ever, my step-mom still doesn’t spend as much time as she would like with the rest of the family. Her workload and company have been demanding most of her attention and energy, so there are days where she can spend hours alone at her desk. To try and combat the loneliness that accompanied this isolation, she set up pictures of her son and one of our dogs next to her computer so that the emotional distance doesn’t feel so much greater than the physical distance. (Though in reality, the rest of the family is only a few rooms away.) Photo by Francie Wilhelm.

WORKING FROM HOME: As a full-time mom, there is always computer work to be completed. At her desk at home, Dr. Nhi Lieu works by managing schedules to handling financial duties. This seemingly organized desk can turn into a messy workspace in seconds as the to-do list piles up. Especially during COVID times, Lieu spends most of her time operating her computer in the comfort of her own home, to complete her tasks. Technology is an important source for our lives because it allows communication within branches of family and within almost anyone’s field of occupation. Photo by Sophie Leung-Lieu.

SENIOR AD STAR: In order to complete her tasks for school, Isabella Dietz had to borrow her teacher’s computer due to her working from home. As a senior ad editor, remembering the details is very important, so a sticker on the computer reminds Isabella Dietz of the specifications for her ads she is completing. Photo by Francesca Dietz.

SCREEN TIME: My sister is only quiet and collected when she has a screen in her face. My parents tend to limit screen time so that she won’t get addicted to it and rely on it for her creativity while she continues to grow up. Photo by Reese Hudson.

POOL FAMILY REUNION: After a super busy week, for both students and parents, we decided to go see our cousins. They were visiting for the week, and they were really excited for me and my brother to visit. The day that we came the weather was really nice, so we all decided that we should go swimming in my Aunt’s pool. Emmett is too young to swim, but Edison really wanted him to come too, so that he wouldn’t feel left out. But my mom said that that wouldn’t be safe so Emmett didn’t get to go. I don’t think he was that upset about it. Photo by Eliza Jensen.

YEARS WORTH EMBRACE: My grandfather and uncle embrace. It has been almost a year since they last hugged. They’ve been separated by work, distance, and safety precautions. Today, they reunite fully vaccinated, making more time to spend together. Photo by Amaya Collier.

LUNCH BREAK: Jaycee Brush finishes assembling the quesadillas she’s about to put on the stove. We both had a break from class and she decided to make lunch for the both of us. Our breaks don’t always line up so it was fun to eat together. Photo by Jaella Brush.

ALL HANDS ON PREP: My mom slices the strawberries she bought at the store. In my house, we always have a bowl of sliced berries in the fridge. We top our breakfasts with strawberries, eat them for afternoon snacks, and pair them with many desserts. Due to our daily intake of strawberries, my mom is often seen by the sink prepping our next week’s supply. Photo by Meredith Grotevant.

A GENEROUS GESTURE: My sister Sarah Vitale makes the salad for our family’s dinner in the kitchen. Our mom Melissa had been working for hours and hadn’t had enough time to finish making our dinner, so my sister had taken it upon herself to finish making it while our mom was on a work call. “I think it’s important to help mom around the house whenever we can, especially since her job is so stressful,” Sarah Vitale said. Photo by Grace Vitale.

PASTA AND PAPERWORK: Kevin Dietz works at his computer while his wife Rachel Dietz gets her dinner. Kevin’s work sometimes causes him to be late for dinner. Because of the limited space, Kevin has to set up his computers in the main living area, but the Dietz family has been able to make it work! Photo by Francesca Dietz.

BUILDING CITIES: My family discovered the game Catan during the long quarantine caused by COVID. It was a way for us to get off our devices and spend some quality time together, and it was fun, when we weren’t destroying each other’s dreams of world conquest and monopoly over world resources. Photo by Annabel Winter.

CATCH! During a small family reunion, my family decided to go swimming in my Aunt’s pool. After 30min my little cousin Edison really wanted to jump in the deep end, but since he can’t swim on his own he practically begged my older cousin, Christopher, to catch him. After a few minutes of pleading he agreed. Christopher caught him over and over again, until Edison got bored of it and asked to do something else. Photo by Eliza Jensen.

BRING YOUR KID TO “WORK” DAY: Since last April, my dad has been attempting to juggle the needs of a young baby (my brother Jack) and his online work schedule. With my step-mom also being busy with her own job and having to wake up with Jack during the night and early morning, my dad has taken over the afternoon shift. The most effective solution he has found is to have these “Bring your kid to work days” where he multitasks watching my brother in his office, either holding him, playing with him, or letting him nap, all while replying to emails, organizing meetings, and hosting Zoom calls. Photo by Francie Wilhelm.

MAKESHIFT MADNESS: Kevin Dietz works at a folding table that is set up between the dining room and living room because his office only allows him to go in person certain days a week. This can cause stress for others around the house because Kevin is on calls a lot and constantly working. The wedding ring on his finger is a reminder of his family even when he is working. The door in the background is the front door, which proves just how little separation he has from his home life and his desk. Photo by Francesca Dietz.

WAY TO GO. Finally, Heather Zacharias works in Tom’s old office, which she has taken over for her own work. Her job won’t let her go back to in person because of COVID. Photo by Ben Zacharias.

PLANT HOLDING GROOT: Mary Joy Brush puts flowers into plant holders shaped like Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. She found the flowers at a store while grocery shopping with my sister and I. She recently got into planting and now we have plants all over our house.  Photo by Jaella Brush.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: My brother sits, intensely focused, as he practices guitar in preparation for an upcoming performance. Music has always played an important role in my family and a lot of our most cherished memories involve some form of music. My dad has been in many bands, my brother and I have been learning multiple instruments since the age of 5, and anywhere you sit in our house there is most likely a guitar within 10 feet of you. We connect with each other through music and have found ways to integrate it into every part of our lives. Photo by Meredith Grotevant.

I WON’T TELL: My sister Sarah Vitale lies down on the chairs in our kitchen while watching Tik Toks in her attempts to avoid having to do her asynchronous schoolwork while our mom is out grocery shopping. My sister had been complaining about how our mom never bothered to spend any time with us since she works so much, so she had told my sister that she would take off work that upcoming weekend and spend it doing fun family activities with us, as long as my sister didn’t procrastinate when it came to her schoolwork and didn’t add any school absences to the staggering amount she had already accumulated this school year. “Mom’s going to be so pissed at me,” Vitale said. “It’s whatever though. I’ll just pretend I finished my work and do it later.” Photo by Grace Vitale.