Anyone with the ability to get a stranger to pose for a camera while touching two or three other strangers in New York City must have both courage and amazing diplomatic skills. Enter photographer Richard Renaldi. Since 2007 Renaldi has been hauling his big, 8 by 10 inch view camera not just around New York, but around other cities and towns across America. This cool involving book presents some of the amazing portraits he’s created.
The juxtapositions are captivating: ages, races, classes, sexes, outfits, jewelry, tattoos, and indoor and outdoor settings all present a panoply of portraits of 21st century Americans. In “Jesse and Michael,” a bearded middle-aged man in an orange sweatshirt and woolen cap clutches the hands of a very old woman wearing a wig, with her cane draped over her purse. Atlantic Ocean waves break behind them.
“Pedro and Neal” touch in some kind of shop or factory. Pedro sits, his body exuding confidence and authority, a radio attached to his shirt. Neal in a blue cap has claimed a perch on Pedro’s desk and Neal places one hand on Pedro’s shoulder, another around his wrist.
“Michael and Sarah” look like they could be engaged. Sarah leans into Michael’s shoulder on the NYC subway during winter—both wear coats and hats; their opposite hands are clasped on Sarah’s left wrist.
Another romantic couple—remember these subjects have just met moments before—stand outside a theatre in Chicago. Both are standing. Liana leans into Gunnar’s back, and her arms curl inside his arms, reaching and touching his shoulders.
In “Amina and Erica” a young blonde white woman in denim cut-offs presses her large hand against a black woman’s pregnant belly against a wall of multi-colored outdoor tiles.
The book begins by quoting a section of Walt Whitman’s poem “To a Stranger.” It begins, “Passing stranger! You do not know how longingly I look upon you. / you must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking…”
In a world increasingly divided by age, race, class, and gender, these portraits provide some hope of a future where strangers will always treat each other with respect and humanity recognizing the self in the other.