Photographer Richard Renaldi is currently on tour with his critically acclaimed photo exhibition “Touching Strangers.” In his exhibition, Renaldi displays pictures of strangers touching in ways that are usually reserved for close friends and loved ones.
Renaldi became interested in photography his junior year of high school. He later went to New York University and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in Photography. He grew up in a wealthy part of Chicago but close to the worst housing project in United States at that time, Cabrini Green. In regards to his upbringing he said, “something seemed unfair to me when my mother took out a pen and drew a line on a map that I was forbidden to cross, so I questioned it, why I was allowed to attend public school with the kids from the projects, and share the same grocery store, yet I was not allowed to enter their neighborhood.” From that experience he digested that his life existed on one side of a great divide between people from different races and classes.
Another boundary Renaldi experienced was associated with his sexuality. “By not being comfortable with my true feelings, I created a fictional story of who I was and I did my best to convince others that I operated in the same sexual arena as them”. He dated girls because it was what he thought to be expected of him, but not what he wanted. When Richard was 15, he would sneak out at night and look for discreet male sexual encounters. “I wanted a physical connection, I was a ragingly hormonal teenage boy but at the same time I also felt a desire for friendship and affection that I believed would not be possible living a double life”. The experience he had with those men helped him understand not only desire but also brief love between strangers.
He clearly remembers his first experience touching a stranger: it was at a church service back in the 70s. The priest asked the congregation something that Richard thought was out of the ordinary. This was to turn to the person who sat beside them and shake their hand as a sign of peace; Ranaldi stated that “It made me feel connected to something larger them my own immediate family”.He figured out early that he had a knack for approaching strangers and asked if he could take their picture. This was not difficult for him. The challenge was when he would ask strangers to pose with someone they did not know, and then tell them to touch each other. For “Touching Strangers” Renaldi took pictures of people of different ages, sexualities, gender, ethnicities, class, religion and background.
You can also be apart of the “Touching Strangers”, take a picture of people you don’t know and who don’t know each other and ask them to touch each other and use the hashtag #TouchingStrangers on Instagram and Twitter.
Name: Richard Renaldi
From: Chicago, currently living in New York with his boyfriend
Education: Photography BFA from NYU