For the last 7 years, photographer Richard Renaldi has gone to various parts of America to take portraits of strangers that make them look like friends, family members, or even lovers.
The point of the project, Renaldi says, is to show that strangers — often people who would never have contact outside of this photo series — can share an intimate moment. To achieve that effect, Renaldi hauls around a massive vintage camera with a hood he can disappear under. He uses the cumbersome camera for three reasons: 1) it takes incredible photographs, 2) it’s a curiosity for most people who have never seen anything like it in person, and 3) it reminds people that they are sitting for a portrait.
Renaldi says the project has gotten an overwhelmingly positive response.
“Even people with no experience with art or photography are able to get what I’m doing and see the underlying message,” Renaldi said. “It’s an accessible concept … This connects all of us.”
Renaldi shared a number of photos from the project, and you can see the rest in his new book, “Touching Strangers.”
When Renaldi began the project in 2007, he approached people at random and simply told them to touch each other in whatever way they felt comfortable.
© Richard Renaldi
Donna and Donna, 2011, Craig, Colorado
Renaldi met Jeremy (left), who had just come from a Kesha concert, in the barbecue tent at the Ohio State Fair. After Jeremy agreed to the portrait, Renaldi went out into the fair, where he found Matthew. Renaldi says there was a lot of tension between Jeremy and Matthew during the shoot, which is reflected in the photograph.
As the project progressed, Renaldi started asking more of his subjects. He says it taught him an important lesson: “You’d be surprised what people are willing to do for you just by asking them. I was surprised that I could push a complete stranger over to my direction.”
Renaldi was at Dolores Park in San Francisco when he saw Alaina, whom he thought had “striking features.” Renaldi knew he wanted to get a photo of strangers kissing so when Tom (left) and Charlie agreed to the shoot, he proposed the idea to Alaina. Tentatively, she said yes, and the men had no objections.
Because Renaldi was trying to create a portrait of America, Renaldi says that he kept a list of the types of people he wanted to photograph. The list included people of different religions, professions, and body types.
Renaldi was walking through downtown L.A. when he spotted Shawn, whom he thought looked like “a Jesus-type.” After Shawn agreed to the shoot, Renaldi spotted Tari and Summer, a pair he described as stunning. All three were very comfortable during the shoot.
For this picture, Renaldi wanted to find two strangers he could shoot in front of the Superior Sewing Equipment sign in Manhattan, which has been there for more than 50 years. To start, Renaldi stood on 6th Avenue around 6 p.m. so he could catch people as they left work. Elaine (left) and Arly came together in that pose on their own.
When Renaldi was in Chicago, he decided to capture two young strangers. After enlisting Chris, a native of the Chicago suburbs, he found Amaira, a young girl from West Virginia. Amaira and her parents were very open to Renaldi’s portrait idea.
You can see Renaldi in action in the segment below from CBS News:
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