If you ask me, “I’m a hugger” can be one of the most alarming things to hear from a someone you don’t know well. (Aside from maybe, “Give me your wallet and no one gets hurt.”) And while it is usually extremely uncomfortable to have your personal space invaded, sometimes strangers touching can be powerful; can be beautiful. And that’s what photographer Richard Renaldi is showcasing with his traveling photo project, “Touching Strangers.”
The method to his madness is pretty simple, and he’s been at it since 2007: Renaldi essentially asks total strangers to pose together for a portrait as though they are intimately acquainted. The results, as you can see, are stunning.
Part of his inspiration, Renaldi told PBS’s Art Beat, came from observing a busy, Manhattan intersection: “You see all these people clustered together in a group. For that moment in space and time, they’re all connected, but actually most all of them are strangers to each other. I liked that dynamic and wanted to explore that.”
He uses a large format, antique-looking film camera and has grown more creative in directing the strangers in their intimate poses, as well as asking them to find their own partner on the street to be photographed with.
Renaldi mentions that while some people are anxious and uncomfortable with being touched by strangers, there is a “visual vocabulary” that exudes from the photos, which always tells a unique story.
Most recently, he opened the project up to the public, inviting people to submit their own photos on Instagram and Twitter with that hashtag #TouchingStrangers, to be used in an exhibition in New York.
These, too, are intoxicating to look at and make you rethink the concept of a ‘stranger.’
For more on the project, check out Renaldi’s Kickstarter video, where he describes the unique challenges he faced in finding and photographing his subjects.