Portraits of Complete Strangers Touching Each Other


While photographer Richard Renadli was in the midst of his 2003 project, See America By Bus, where he was photographing groupings of strangers waiting in Greyhound bus stations, he began to think about exploring the idea of expanding on his group portraitures of strangers concept.  “To create spontaneous and fleeting relationships between complete strangers,” as he as stated.

So in 2007, he began approaching strangers, again all across the US, and convincing them to participate in his photobook project Touching Strangers.  Simply, and yet not so simply, asking complete strangers to connect with each other through touch, for the moment it takes to make a photograph.

Six years later, Richard readily admits that the initial ask still causes him a bit of nervousness and anxiety.  His process is to carefully survey whatever neighborhood or area he has chosen, for just the right casting combination that will elicit an interesting tension (or not) of connection. Once he finds the person, he approaches them and introduces himself.  Often, he’ll show them examples of work on his iPad, so that they can better understand who he is and what he is doing.  To gain a bit of initial trust.  He’ll then repeat the process until the grouping is complete.  Not everyone agrees.  But then again, sometimes he’s surprised by those that do.  Richard will have them sign an editorial release, more for their contact information, so that he can send them a print from their sitting.

For nearly 160 groupings, Richard has positioned two or more strangers in front of his beloved large format 8×10 camera (which he has left set-up, sometimes unattended, while he finds his subjects) and directed them to touch, perhaps in a way that most people who don’t know each other would otherwise resist.  He seems to have a way of quickly getting them to feel comfortable enough so that they acquiesce. Depending on the dynamics between the subjects and the moment, Richard will make two to four photographs of them, each in different poses.  The entire process usually taking ten minutes or so.

Michael & Kimberly

Michael & Kimberly

The results convey a wide range of physical responses of connecting to a stranger through touch. Everything from an arm stiffly resting on someone’s shoulder with the hand held up so as not to completely touch, to tender touches and soft eyes, to just under the surface sexuality.  And so much more.  These are those types of photographs that give up something new each time you look at them.

Jessie & Michael, 2013, NY

Jessie & Michael, 2013, NY

Carlos and Alex, 2007, NYC

Carlos and Alex, 2007, NYC

Atiljan & Tiffany, 2011, NY

Atiljan & Tiffany, 2011, NY

Keebs & Beth, 2012, NV

Keebs & Beth, 2012, NV

Nathan & Robin

Nathan & Robin

Tari, Shawn, Summer, 2012, CA

Tari, Shawn, Summer, 2012, CA

Sonia, Zach, Raekwon, & Antonio

Sonia, Zach, Raekwon, & Antonio

The final photobook of 65-70 portraits will be published by the Aperture Foundation in the Spring of 2014. A Kickstarter campaign was created to fund the project and ends on August 5.

Image credits: Photographs by Richard Renaldi and used with permission

  • asdf

    awkwardly awesome!!!!

  • IAR

    The title makes this even more weirder.

  • Pablov

    Carlos and Alex, 2007, NYC Not so much conection.

  • Sheckie1

    The problem with this is that on the surface it’s nothing special. Just a bunch of portraits. If it has to be explained it’s not art.

  • Anatole

    Guessing people in the United States are awkward in this aspect, it’s interesting.
    I am a brazilian living in Italy. It would not be a big deal at all in neither country, specially here in Italy, people seem to have no personal space at all.
    But again, it’s interesting if you can relate… I guess.

  • DaBull

    This seems silly…decent pictures, but how do you know they are, in fact, “complete strangers”?
    What does a “complete stranger” look like?

  • Frank Martinez

    You’ve never had anyone explain a work of art to you? I guess all those docents and educators can retire.

  • JD


  • Susiec

    I find it interesting that everyone looks so “detached”. There’s just no connection there at all.

  • Eugene Chok

    ‘ i think thats still the process, to learn to see like the camera, to see in a way which sees deeper then the surface, deeper then perception.’ christopher doyle

  • Eugene Chok

    lol at the white dude in the ralph lauren shirt forming a fist hug lol awkward… latino guy seems to have no issue with it however, you are correct its a western thing, they get awkward doing juijitsu when then have to touch sometimes lol

  • Eugene Chok

    fist hug lol !

  • mellonicoley

    I’d be interested to see what response he’d get in London if he took his project to the UK. People will barely look at each other on the tube! (that’s the London Underground subway for those not in the know)

  • Burnin Biomass

    I wouldn’t call this bad, the concept just doesn’t really hold my interest, so the images are uninteresting to me. They might be great to others.

  • Matt

    It wouldn’t bother me at all. So I would say people can be awkward. Shoot, just think about XXX bars, lots of stranger touching going on there!! :)

  • Ronald

    And extra more cooler too.

  • Brandon Chin

    Interesting…I had the same initial response of not being interested in the concept, but upon reading about it, and moreover, looking at the photographs, it captured my interest.

  • S. Tomas Siggerud

    hover hand

  • rs1123

    The people in these photos seem uncomfortable. I’ll admit, I don’t get it.

  • Wuz nt Me

    so.. they took porn and made it family-safe and boring…

  • Alicia Kuhl

    Beautiful!! He is showing us what humanity COULD be like.

  • homopunk84 .

    You don’t want to see like the camera. The camera is just a tool it is emotionless its an extension of your body. what it captures is meaningless… until the camera itself is pushed aside all together when you are done. and all that is left IS a perception not only of the photographer capturing it but YOUR perception also as a voyeur looking into this world.

    So ideally. You want to see it like the person behind the camera does. that is what is important. and that’s where the significance of any photo lies. It’s such an instant moment but thinking about the image could let u wander into all sorts of interesting places.

  • homopunk84 .

    “If it has to be explained it’s not art.”

    I want that in a huge frame on my wall that is just funny as hell.

  • homopunk84 .

    that isnt the point is it. why not fall into the fantasy as the artist encourages you to do and maybe in the process learn something valuable about social normality and perhaps even learn something about how it relates to u personally.

  • homopunk84 .

    I love this too. They all have everything they have to do afterwards playing through their minds. that is what is interesting. you build stories.

  • Jeanne-Marie Vita

    Jesse n Michael….Michael is my youngest brother….God Bless him..<3

  • Eugene Chok

    ok sticking with chris doyle on this one… opinion of a master vs some guy on interweb, that said you have completely missed what he is saying so….might explain why you can not perceive another person premise

  • homopunk84 .

    you can either stick with what people say. or you can develop your own philosophy to the craft. you are free to do whatever you like.