What Happens When Total Strangers Are Asked to Touch

An introvert's nightmare.

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Richard Renaldi

Richard Renaldi wanted to conduct a simple sociological experiment: what would happen if two complete strangers were asked to touch each other?

Struck by what he perceived as Americans' low tolerance for personal space intrusions, the Chicago-born photographer traveled the country to find the answer. The results can be found in his new book Touching Strangers.

Renaldi's portfolio captures an impressively wide range of people from different backgrounds. With Touching Strangers, he learned how to get them to pose with each other, figuring out just how far people are willing to go with someone they've never met.

Each time, the first person he asked had to be willing to wait while he found a willing partner. In the book, Renaldi notes that asking people to pose with strangers generated a wide range of reactions. Some responded as if they had been just asked to share a cup of coffee, others as if he'd "requested a spontaneous and public sexual favor."

The spectrum of reactions to the photographer's final results have been as varied. Some "have been moved to tears," Renaldi says. "Others find the project disturbing."
 
Left: Elaine and Arly, 2012, New York, NY. Right: Heather and Johnny, 2012, San Francisco, CA. Copyright Richard Renaldi 
Left: Jeromy and Matthew, 2011, Columbus, OH. Right: Kiya and Simon, 2012, New York, NY. Copyright Richard Renaldi
Vincent and Charles, 2012, Los Angeles, CA. Copyright Richard Renaldi

Top photo: Alfredo and Jessica, 2011, New York, NY. Copyright Richard Renaldi

All images from Touching Strangers (Aperture, May 2014). Copyright Richard Renaldi. The photographs are also on exhibit at the Aperture Gallery, 547 W 27th Street from April 3 until May 15, 2014

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