“Bumping into strangers in the dark is a figure for democratic citizenship.”
— Danielle Allen, Talking to Strangers, 2004
When crowded onto an elevator we strain to fix our attention straight ahead and to avoid touching one another; when we can’t avoid the touching we try to find ways to ignore that it is happening. These are habits of civic life in late modern society. Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” exhibit challenges these habits by asking us to reflect upon them within the broader citizenship of photography. The premise of his project is simple: Renaldi stops strangers on the street – strangers both to him and to one another – and asks them if they will consent to being photographed together while touching one another. His catalog of photographs helps us to see how “notions of trust, love, social conventions and taboos are expressed through body language” and thus implicate the stranger relationality fundamental to life in late modern democratic public culture.
Those in the New York area can view his exhibit at The Gallery at Hermes through May 28, 2010. For the rest you can see a selection of the exhibit here. An interview with Rinaldi is available at Conscientious Extended.