The Science of Awkward: Human Interaction in America

Richard Renaldi
Richard Renaldi
Julie and Xavier, Chicago, Ill., 2007

Walking the streets of New York City, photographer Richard Renaldi felt fascinated by large groups of strangers and how they seemed to relate and interact with one another. In his ongoing series, Touching Strangers, Renaldi explores this relationship by pairing unacquainted individuals for a portrait with one stipulation: the subjects must physically interact in some manner.

“I think it reveals a lot about body language,” says Renaldi. “There is clear hesitation in some of the images, and other times, you are surprised at how comfortable they are.” Often posing his subjects in a way one might for family or couple photos, Renaldi attempts to capture an “implied narrative,” bringing a new complexity to portrait-making and visual storytelling. “My objective was to bring an unpredictable variable in a very traditional photographic formula—to create a spontaneous and fleeting relationship between strangers,” he said.

Richard Renaldi

From, Bus Travelers

Inspired by an image from an earlier project, Bus Travelers, Renaldi found something magnetic about the subtle interaction between subjects in the photograph. “I really liked that picture and kept going back to it,” he says. “I kept thinking about how this one individual related to the other in the image—but also how I could extend that challenge.”

Sometimes the shoots require a bit of direction from the photographer. “Their inclination would generally be to just put their arm around each other or hold hands,” Renaldi says. “That’s sort of the most common kind of idea about touch and because I want to push this project—and I want to push the interactions between people—I needed to become more involved. The fact that someone has agreed to do it obviously means that they are somewhat open, but that does not mean that they’re going to totally cuddle up for me.”

Renaldi hopes to turn the series into a book, but given the unlimited options for portrait settings, the photographer says it has sometimes been tricky to stay on track with the concept. “I am really working hard this summer on making more and more [images] so I can get enough to publish it,” he says. “On the other hand, I keep coming up with new ideas and different scenarios and locations. This could be a whole life long project and it could go into other new directions.”

Richard Renaldi is a New York based photographer who specializes in documentary portrait projects. To see more of his work, including the aforementioned series, Bus Travelers, visit his website here.

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