Having grown up in Peru, I am very used to touching, kissing or hugging people even when I'm meeting them for the first time. So moving to the U.S., a country with a culture where touching each other, let alone a stranger brings distress and displeasure, was a bit of a shock. It is in this context that Richard Renaldi's Touching Strangers series works best, although I find the work extraordinary nonetheless.
But even in a country like Peru, the gesture of touching a stranger is one of uncanny intimacy. So although I think the work is more efficient in the context of the North American culture, it speaks to a rather "universal" concept. It is also not only about the act of a stranger touching another one, but too about the act of asking someone to touch someone else. The photos say a lot about the kind of culture we live in; each socioeconomic/ethnic/gender/age group has developed not only its own way of depicting themselves but in a way its own way of touching each other too. So to mix this brings rather astounding results. Of course, there is no real way to know how much direction Renaldi provided them with and how genuine each act is.
On a more formal level, I think some photos work better than others. I enjoy those which are more subtle; i think some might be a bit too predictable (i.e. black person with white person) thus generating a photo that becomes more about "oh look! how often do you see a white guys with three black kids??" Renaldi himself mentioned that race is not the only thing that brings discomfort when touching a stranger... it's much more than that! In a recent interview with Jorg Colberg, Renaldi mentioned that he researched a lot of portraiture including family portraits and photos of lovers. It is very interesting how one grows comfortable to pose a specific way with each group of people. When photographed, one stands rather still with co-workers, or in family portraits perhaps there is a usual configuration that tends to work, or with one's lover the bodies and heads are closer ever so slightly. I am very interested in the cases in which these norms are broken and each grouping of strangers is forced to create a brand new set of norms- how do you pose in such a bizarre situation?
There are many questions that this project raises but more importantly, regardless who you are it will make you think "What if that was me?" This project really touches my heart and gives me chills at the same time. Because really, what is more truthful than faux tenderness?