What Happens When You Touch A Stranger

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In a series called "Touching Strangers," the photographer Richard Renaldi asked complete strangers walking down the streets of New York City to pose together, making it look like they were family members, friends or lovers. Renaldi speaks with host Rachel Martin about the project.


It's happened to all of us - you accidentally bump into a stranger on a crowded street, or someone's hand brushes yours in the subway. You might apologize and quickly move away or pretend it didn't happen at all. But if you lingered, stayed connected to that complete stranger for a few more seconds, what would happen? That's what Richard Renaldi wanted to find out. The New York photographer sets up his camera on a street corner and asks passers-by to pose as if they are family, friends, even lovers. His project is called "Touching Strangers." Richard Renaldi joins us from our studios in New York. Welcome to the program.


MARTIN: What is it about that particular kind of connection between two strangers that you wanted to explore? What do you get by making people make that physical connection with one another?

RENALDI: Well, you get some awkwardness. I would say that when I first started shooting, I was very awkward. So, it took me a while to get comfortable with my role. And I realized that I wanted to create more intimate situations. Because the early ones are all like everyone would just kind of want to either hold hands or put their arm around each other. And I wanted something much more intimate.

MARTIN: How do you make someone comfortable with this? You talk about how in the beginning when you started this project, the subjects were awkward and the connection felt contrived.

RENALDI: I, you know, I do some talking up to them. The ones that are really, really almost delve into the zones of eroticism or sensuality, I say, you know, how far - can I really push you? Will you guys really be game? And I think a lot of people are really good sports. Sometimes they're not. They say, yes, but they're not really fully onboard, and they're anxious. And I think that's really interesting, too, actually.

MARTIN: I wonder if there's one photo in "Touching Strangers" that is particularly intimate in a way that surprised even you.

RENALDI: There is one of two women at a Buddhist temple in Hawaii. And one of the women, she worked at the temple, and she was bald because she had lost her hair undergoing chemotherapy. And she seemed somewhat frail but also cheerful and just quite lovely, warm. And then I found another woman who was there. She was on her honeymoon. She was a tourist from New Jersey. The woman from New Jersey, I had her put her hand caressing the other woman's face in a very, very tender way. And when you see the picture, it reads as such a moment of tenderness.

MARTIN: Photographer Richard Renaldi is the artist behind "Touching Strangers." His book by the same name will be published in the spring. Thanks so much for talking with us, Richard.

RENALDI: Thank you, Rachel.


MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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