Photographer Challenges Social Norms by Touching Strangers in New York City


NYC-based photographer Joy Mckinney has spent most of her life conforming to the norms she believed to be “socially correct.” Her latest series, The Guardian, is about breaking through those norms and her own socially guarded personality in order to interact with strangers on the streets of New York in a real and meaningful way.

The short version is that she goes up to strangers and, with their approval, simply touches their face with her hand as she photographs them. Seventy four strangers later, and Mckinney has been pleasantly surprised at what she’s found to be true of most people:

I am able to see via the photograph what I believed about strangers was in fact false, and that often times people are accepting and willing to share … The photographic work serves as a triumph and personal achievement to my ability to let go of my judgments and fears in order to share with another human being in both space and time.

Of course, she does often encounter people who aren’t willing to participate — some might see this project as just plain weird — but, for her, The Guardian is as much about the experiment of breaking the socially accepted barriers of personal space and her own comfort zone as it is about the photos she has created:










To see more of Mckinney’s work, both from this and the other projects she has put together over the years, head over to her website by clicking here.

(via Feature Shoot)

Image credits: Photographs by Joy Mckinney and used with permission.

  • Robby Cornish


  • Benicio Murray

    I wonder how different the outcome would be for a male photographer?

  • jrconner

    Aberrant behavior, not art. And, dirty.

  • Manwithacamera

    Why some people are taking crappy pictures in the name of creativity or new photography projects? :(

  • Angel

    I think shes awesome

  • RBM

    Another corny gimmick lacking purpose.

  • gochugogi

    Some of them work graphically, the 2nd from last especially. I think because the spread little finger and asymmetrical hair adds tension to an otherwise perfectly centered/static composition. The gaze of her dark eyes make a nice connection. I would hardy call touching strangers dirty–hugs and one night stands might better qualify–but it is odd while also brave. At least she’s doing something different as most images are pretty much clones of accepted image norms. And these images are ripe with social commentary both imagined or intended.

  • Draven

    Petapixel has dropped to new lows in terms of stupid posts.

  • Lacapino

    Stupid, whats the point? Completely non-photographically stimulating. boring, bad composition, no sense of any aesthetics

    come on man, why even publish this crap

  • Burnin Biomass

    Interesting concept, execution could be better. This falls under my “photographer as performance artist” category.

  • Tyler Magee

    This isn’t creative at all… Gross hands gross faces all around gross.

  • Roberto Inetti

    This is true art!!

    Where’s that troll.gif when you need it?

  • Brendan

    This is beautiful and moving. Thank you for posting this.

  • Norshan Nusi

    Not really that inspiring nor interesting. :(

  • Igor Ken

    same here.

  • Orc Alladin

    dirty nails….

  • Orc Alladin

    those dirty nails looks like they’ve been scratching her ass before taking the pics…

  • Elias Allanby

    Errrr really?

  • Albin Roussel

    my thought exactly

  • Matthew Neumann

    God, so pointless. “Challenging social norms.” Yawn.

  • KH

    You don’t know where that hand has been, and out of all places, get it the hell off of my lips.

  • thingwarbler

    Soo… she got tired of staying behind the lens and felt like she had — just had! — to get part of herself in the shot? “Let me take a picture of you, but make it all about ME ME ME!” Weirdly pseudo-narcissistic fetishism, that. I’m a photographer precisely because I *don’t* crave the limelight and much prefer to be as far away from it as possible.

  • cheekymonkey

    reminds me of a scene from E.T.