Photography Exhibit: Touching Strangers

Jessie and Michael, New York, NY, 2013, Photograph by Richard Renaldi
Jessie and Michael, New York, NY, 2013, Photograph by Richard Renaldi

Last week, I was thrilled to visit the photography exhibit, “Touching Strangers,” at the Loyola University Museum of Art with my dear friend, Nancy Paul. When I first saw an ad for the exhibit I thought to myself, “Touching strangers! That’s what we do!” If you’re a Reiki practitioner, I’m sure the title resonates with you too.  Of course, as with the subjects in the photographs this is touch based on mutual consent and the highest level of respect for each individual.

When you view the images in the exhibit, which I highly recommend, the power of human connection is palpable. (The exhibit is at the Loyola University Museum of Art, LUMA, in downtown Chicago through August 2nd, 2015 and travels to many other locations through next year.) You’ll find in it heads gently titled toward each other, the equality of touch between two individuals, and the kindness of body symmetry or facial expression between those being photographed. One of the powerful aspects found in this collection is that many of those photographed come from different ethnic, racial, or age groups. In our minds, we “know” that, perhaps, they are indeed strangers to each other, but that they have found a commonality that they are presenting to the photographer.

The opposite is found in this group of images as well.  There are images where the discomfort between the subjects is vibrant. Where a subtle clenched fist or body slightly tilted away depicts an emotion of resistance from at least one of the individuals. Most of the images were taken in outside settings and the photographer, Richard Renaldi, does an amazing job composing images with backgrounds that enhance the overall image and work so powerfully with the humans in his portraits. There are at least two images at the LUMA exhibit that were photographed inside. This internal environment lends a layer of greater intimacy to the images which in one instance adds warmth to the experience of the photograph and in another instance creates a discomfort over why these strangers are inside together.

The exhibit is accompanied by a video documentary that includes interviews with some of the individuals photographed. It shows Renaldi’s process for approaching his subjects and how he pre-screens them — looking for those individuals who may be receptive to being photographed with a stranger. In their experience those photographed recount feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty at the beginning of the photo session, then a transformation occurs. By the end of the session, they feel a strong connection and concern for the other person. In the video they are shown hugging and the bonds of a human relationship are formed through this experience of being photographed while touching a stranger.

In Reiki sessions, we touch in order to connect with a subtle and unseen energy that infuses and surrounds us. Through this touch we relax into the connection with each other and the universe and we find the power to heal ourselves in mind, body, and spirit.


Please share your thoughts in the comments below:  What do you think of Richard Renaldi’s series of photographs, “Touching Strangers”?  What is your experience with respectful human touch and the human relationships that it forges?