Few things bring people as much overwhelming fascination as physical deformities. I remember the first time I saw a guy with two tiny little T-rex-style arms — I spent the rest of the day marvelling at all the complexities that he dealt with as “normal situations.” How did he wipe his ass? Did those little hands have some sort of “super strength”? Where did he buy gloves — or did he just go to warmer climates to avoid such conundrums?
Enter the bafflingly engaging Tumblr site “OneTinyHand.” Site creator Zach Vitale and partners use the magic of image retouching to create a beautiful(?) world in which everyone has — yup, one tiny hand. Fitting celebrities and the like with miniature mitts could be a touchy subject, so I contacted Vitale just to see how handy he was with answering my questions. Turns out, he’s a hell of a lot nicer and more sensitive to people’s differing attributes than I am.
How did you come up with the concept?
I’m a retoucher, and at the time I was working at a busy online photo studio here in Boston. Folks in the studio would take smoke breaks and I’m not big on smoking or the smell of smoke, so I’d hang out inside. So I was all alone, on a dark fashion set, with a few minutes to kill, and for whatever reason it seemed like a good idea to take a picture of a model and do something weird to it. After lots of messing around, I found whenever I made a hand tiny, it made me laugh really hard. I knew these people and saw them every day, and seeing them with something slightly different that wasn’t immediately identifiable was really funny.
When that job ended, I didn’t have access to the shots of the models, so to give myself breaks during freelance jobs I started finding pictures of celebrities online and tiny-handing them. I started posting them on Facebook for no reason other than to reaffirm to all my friends what a weirdo I was. People responded to them and thought they were as funny as I did, which was completely unexpected and totally surprising, to be honest. After a few months of posting tiny hands to Facebook and getting such a positive response from everyone I knew, a few friends and I got together (Bob O’Connor, a photographer, and James Weinberg, a designer) and we made the Tumblr. We posted it on Facebook at 9 a.m., word spread pretty quick, and we were on the front page of Reddit a few hours later.
Have any real-life “tiny handers” written you to bitch about (or praise) your site?
There’s been some of that, but the feedback has been almost universally positive, and we’re really grateful for that. I think there are always going to be a few people who don’t get what you’re doing, and that’s to be expected, especially on the Internet. Since none of us were expecting more than 50 people to know about the site, having 100s of thousands of people suddenly expressing their opinions on your work was something of a shock, and it took some time to digest the “not so nice” comments.
Truthfully, onetinyhand is about altering things you’re familiar with to create confusion/discomfort/laughter. It’s not about anyone with a condition, and I sincerely had no idea that people were living with something similar to what our images portray until after the website got popular. We’ve gotten plenty of emails from people coping from these conditions that were incredibly supportive, and on the flip-side, a few people have expressed concern that our website might be coming from a bad place. I’ve responded to every single email (that wasn’t scary or completely insane) and once that back-and-forth dialogue happens, people generally understand that it’s just a silly website with a harmless concept and not poking fun at anyone. It’s just not who we are as people.
What sort of things are you doing when you aren’t shrinking people’s hands?
I’m a retoucher (www.zachvitale.com), Bob is a photographer (www.boboconnor.net) and James is a designer (www.weinbergdesign.com). We all live in the Boston area, and we really, really, really love what we do and who we work with.
How did the concept for onetinyhand merchandising come about?
You know, there have been opportunities that have come along to turn onetinyhand into something more than a weird website on the Internet. We get emails from advertisers all the time who want to put ads on the site, and there was a whole commercial thing that happened six months ago (that we had absolutely nothing to do with) that got a lot of attention. James made us a great logo and identity, and Bob worked on making a clean and simple theme that made the site easy to read and navigate, so mucking up that experience with ad content isn’t something we’re interested in. Maybe it’s not the best business plan, but we made the site with the firm belief that if you go to onetinyhand, you should see weird pictures of celebrities with tiny hands, not ads for boner pills or pictures of singles in your area.
At the end of the day, we’re three normal guys who made a website that people seem to like. People have asked before, and I always come back to the same thing … do you know those 5 or 10 minutes before “work starts,” where you’re at your desk, fucking around on dumb sites, kinda dreading that you have to switch into “adult mode” shortly, and wanting to look at something stupid but funny that will start off your day on a good note? That’s why we keep making tiny hands — for everyone who has those couple of minutes in the morning and wants to escape reality for a second before they have to come back to earth and do the 9-5 thing. That’s what it’s all about for us, and as long as we’re having fun and other people are too, that’s how it’ll continue to be.
How pleasant is that? You could get diabetes off those answers. I gotta hang around people like these guys more and spend less time stealing from old ladies down by the waterfront. If you haven’t stopped reading already to check out their hilarious site for yourself, I suggest you do so now.