Over the course of six years, New York-based photographer Richard Renaldi wandered the streets of America, searching for strangers who were willing to be photographed together. He would bring two individuals together, some with divergent outward appearances and others that looked more like family. Then he carefully positioned them—asking them to move in close and hold hands, or rest their head on the other’s shoulder—to create scenes of physical intimacy that broke social convention, pushed comfort levels, and allowed strangers to experience a moving connection. Touching Strangers (2007 – 2013) is a series of convincing portrayals of loving relationships, ones placed at odds with the disclosure that each couple met for the first time mere moments before the shutter was released.
Renaldi adopts the guise of the traditional street photographer for his work—using a large-format 8x10 camera—and evokes classic portraiture through carefully staged poses. These tools and techniques, however, amplify his concept, heightening the sense of disjunction between the reality of the image and the artifice behind it. The artist playfully conjures relationships and misrepresents identities, all with the intention of bringing people physically and emotionally closer together. In that moment, the relationships are real, forged through a shared task, however spontaneous and fleeting.
Thirteen of Renaldi’s Touching Strangers portraits line the street outside of Metro Hall, the subjects depicted nearly life-size in scale. Seen together, these scenes highlight the diversity of the urban social fabric, a statement made particularly poignant when placed near Toronto’s hub of civic services. This location also echoes the streetscapes within which Renaldi staged his scenes. His provocative and, ultimately, optimistic images open a dialogue about the possibilities for breaking down social barriers and forging positive human connections in a diverse society.
Supported by the City of Toronto.