Each of us engages in a private cartography, the fence posts of which are known only to ourselves. Of all the boundaries that separate us from each other, few are more sacrosanct than the invisible lines we habitually draw between others and ourselves in public. There are few small-bore offenses in modern life that cause greater affront than a violation of personal space. On a crowded subway at rush hour, do you move your leg if it comes into contact with a stranger’s?

Urban life forces us into shared spaces with members of other tribes, and out of this circumstantial density we create a larger family for ourselves, however dysfunctional. At an early age, unseen connections between strangers, and the negative space between them, became visible to me as the singular adhesive tissue linking communities, binding each of us together into small universes, unaware of the power of each other’s gravitational pull.

With this project, I wanted to know what would happen if I asked my subjects to reach through and beyond their taboos. I wanted to observe the physical vocabulary that would emerge when a photographer directs strangers who have been approached randomly on the street, and who have been introduced to each other only moments before, to touch each other’s bodies. The captured moments were orchestrated. They are fictional, spontaneous relationships acted out as street performances in front of my 8-by-10 view camera. The participants did not know each other and may never meet again. And yet these recorded moments of contact will now permanently exist as connections between two or more human beings, all strangers to each other.

Viewers often imagine their own stories about the relationships in the photographs. This is natural and intuitive. The human mind exercises an ancient impulse to delineate the bonds of human interconnection. Touching Strangers might well be about my own search for intimacy, my desire to visually articulate and to cross the unseen boundaries that separate us from one another; to gauge the potential of every passing stranger to be a lover, a partner, or a friend.

From the afterword to Touching Strangers, published by Aperture with an introduction by Teju Cole. Read more.


Richard Renaldi was born in Chicago in 1968. He received his BFA in photography from New York University in 1990. His photographs have been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the US, Asia and Europe. His first monograph, Figure and Ground, was published by Aperture in 2006. His second, Fall River Boys, was released in 2009 by Charles Lane Press, where he is founder and publisher.

The Touching Strangers exhibition continues at the Aperture Gallery in New York to 15 May 2014 and will be on display at the Photographic Center Northwest in Seattle in from 10 September to 29 October 2014 and the Loyola University Museum of Art, Chicago from 30 May to 2 August 2015. Read more.