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Take a good look…

This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.
…at this couple.
Done that? The image is from the series Touching Strangers by Richard Rinaldi. The two people in the image have no shared history, they have only just been introduced. Does the last sentence change anything for you? If so, why?
You can hear Richard talking about the project in this Kickstarter video:

So what are your thoughts?

Posted by author: Genevieve Sioka
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42 thoughts on “Take a good look…

  • How heart-warming. This is a beautiful concept. I wonder if he’s ever been able to bring rival gang members together in a photograph? What about a body builder and a disabled person? The possibilities are endless. It would be interesting to know if any of the meetings actually brought about friendships. I loved the photographs and I absolutely love the idea of bringing strangers together. Thanks for the post!

      • well, they are holding hands … yet this is something they might have been asked to do by the photographer.
        “Look at the eyes, look into the eyes, are you seeing the eyes … etc” (reference “Little Britain”) and there seems very little if anything is happening between them.
        However, looking through this series of images on the photographer’s website I do notice a tendency for the strength of the gaze towards to the photographer to be softened in some cases which suggests some kind of relationship is developing between those photographed.(In “Heather and Johnny”, Johnny is not even looking at the camera …)

  • A clever idea but, unlike Maria, I didn’t find it heartwarming. There was something almost clinical about it for me. I could be wrong but when I looked at the series on the website I couldn’t see any images where the people were actually looking at each other. Maybe that makes it okay for them because it de-personalizes the contact. Made me think as well about situations where we shake hands with strangers because someone else has introduced us.

  • I admire both the photographer and publisher’s gal in their desire to use these people purely to make money. The publisher can’t even believe enough in the project to put up some money, only five minutes to stand for a video while he asks us to provide the money.
    Some people trust others enough to take commands for no reason, and subjects/victims here might have been better explored by looking into their background to understand why they can be so easily manipulated. Would they have cooperated so easily if the photographer explained that he was doing this to make some money and advance his reputation so as to make some more?
    Do they want us to see strangers touching uncomfortably for any other reason?

    • “I admire both the photographer and publisher’s gal in their desire to use these people purely to make money.”
      Don’t share your sense of irony.
      Projects like this seldom make much money and even though Aperture are a successful photographic publisher, they are unlikely to be raking in massive profits.
      “… purely to make money” … I would like to credit the photographer and the publisher with some sense of “art”

  • I have to say that I’ve seen this work before and then, like now, I found it truly inspirational. That a very simple concept which relies and builds on the pure generosity of strangers – there goes that Tennessee Williams quote again – by sparing a few moments and engaging. Signifying hope, altruism maybe and, I like to think that Chris Boot is genuine as well, by extending the concept. Too naive? Perhaps, but I’m usually stigmatised for cynicism!

  • Its so interesting that looking initially at the topmost image, I imagined the people shown were a couple, I looked at their faces, thought about their individual characteristics and imagined their relationship together, I was quite convinced.
    Then reading the sentence that comes afterwards, that changes how I perceive them totally – it makes me more aware of the photographer and how the situation may have been contrived by him.
    Haven’t looked at the video as I after having read watlvy i don’t want to risk it!

  • I do wonder, Like Brian, how come Aperture are looking to crowd funding but maybe it is simply the thing of the moment, after all, subscription publishing funded Turner!
    The whole project is very interesting not least in that it calls into question what we mean by ‘strangers’. Here we have people selected by the artist for a variety of reasons but mainly because he thinks that they will produce interesting images, who are photographed after they have been introduced to each other, made aware of the purpose of the photograph and so on…hardly ‘strangers’ in the classic sense of the word but then what is a stranger in our digital, socially networked global village?

    • ‘Here we have people selected by the artist for a variety of reasons but mainly because he thinks that they will produce interesting images..’ Wasn’t it ever thus? Arbus, Cameron, Avedon, Clark? Why else make the image other than challenging that concept of ‘strangeness’?

    • ‘hardly ‘strangers’ in the classic sense of the word…’ I agree Peter, they were strangers before Richard Rinaldi’s intervention, but he has negotiated the start of a relationship

    • The photographer has made a photograph, we are the ones who see what we see in it. I don’t see any challenging of strangeness I see a question about my perception of an image with and without the context, and this makes me question my own ideas about other people and how I relate to them based on seeing but not knowing (misquoting Berger I think!)
      Which does relate back to this idea of what does make a person a stranger to me … or not these days. So much of the time we make snap judgments based on appearance.
      Maybe this is what stops us bothering to look at the photograph and notice what it says to us and instead hypothesize about the photographers intentions.
      I think I prefer the way of looking that assumes no author 🙂

  • Very similar to but far less engaging to me than Jamie Diamond’s project (seen here http://www.jamiegdiamond.com/photolanding.php?id=8) where he made a series of family portraits where the family members shown were strangers to each other and the photographer. A more complex project working on several levels I find.
    Re the crowdfunding I see no problem there other than the potential for other publishers to absolve themselves of financial responsibility and risk and possibly decrease the market place. At the same time crowd funding is open to all potentially so the market place can also increase.

  • Regarding the money issue, profiting from one’s art, I feel, is a legitimate exercise. However, in a situation like this my instinct would be that the right thing to do would be to inform the subjects of the purpose of the photographs. Did Richard Rinaldi do this? If we don’t know perhaps it’s a little harsh to judge in this manner?
    The situation reminds me of an MA Photography student who wanted to photograph trans people in both gender identities, as part of her studies, but such photographers usually come across a reluctance for subjects to do this because of stigmatisation. However, this didn’t bother me and we went ahead. I suggested the photographer ask in a particular online forum for other volunteers. She did so and was villified in a most vitriolic manner, and amongst other criticisms was the fact that she would benefit reputation-wise from the photographs and that this was exploiting the subjects, a vulnerable section of society. I strongly disagreed with this as she had personal sympathies with the subjects and, like myself, felt there were educational values attached to such a project. However, in this particular situation full disclosure of motives was absolutely essential. A number of other subjects came forward in the photographers defence, but I never heard from her again. I think she was driven away.
    My conclusion from both discussion of Richard Rinaldi and the MA Photography student’s activities is that people are very sensitive to how photographs of themselves are used and being open, honest and transparent is vital.
    Finally, I’d just like to say that Rinaldi has given me an idea for one of my own “People and Place” projects. A very helpful post, thank you.

  • How interesting. Before I read the context (ie. that the couple in the picture were strangers) I thought it was a picture of a soldier injured (perhaps blinded) in battle and his fiancé. I thought she looked afraid and they appeared to be forced together under the circumstances.

  • Presented with a ‘safe’, structured, organised and temporary ‘space’ in which to act, these strangers are willing to touch each other in ways that they would not otherwise have done. The photographer has selected them, provided them with that ‘space’ and captured an image of them touching. That much we know. It is probably reasonable to assume that, in most (maybe all) cases, they then went about their business of living their lives as before and did not begin to touch strangers on a regular basis! Is the series likely to lead to mass touching of strangers? One hopes not.
    Does it say much about the way we perceive images? Perhaps we can conclude, yet again, that photography is capable of fooling most of the people most of the time. But then it always was.
    Has the photographer come up with an original idea that will make a bit of money for him (and Aperture, and the crowd-funders)? Yes, and good luck to him, but don’t let’s pretend it is of much more significance than that.
    (I nearly didn’t post this comment because it sounds somewhat negative and dismissive! I apologise for the fact that it sounds so – but it is an honest response.)

      • Sadly, there are those who seem to need no excuse!
        But on the matter of this series – it is interesting; has potential for varied readings; demonstrates a good example of setting up a premise for a project and following it through; but I don’t think it has a great deal to say.

        • ‘It is probably reasonable to assume that, in most (maybe all) cases, they then went about their business of living their lives as before and did not begin to touch strangers on a regular basis! Is the series likely to lead to mass touching of strangers?’
          There’s a lot of assumptions in there Stan. I don’t think it is necessary for the participants or us as viewers to start indiscriminate touching for the work to impact on how we live our lives. For me the key thought is that these people aren’t ‘strangers’ by the time they are photographed. They have been introduced by Renaldi – he has shown that there is the basis for some form of relationship – even if transitory. It made me think about the number of people I see/pass by on a daily basis without giving a second thought.

        • (Not sure whether this is going to appear in the right place – it’s a response to Gareth’s response to me!)
          It could be argued that “… these people aren’t ‘strangers’ by the time they are photographed” is also an assumption & no more or less reasonable than mine that they went about their business relatively unchanged.
          However, it is right to say that the images have potential for multiple readings & they may well have caused some people to reflect on how they respond to ‘strangers’. They didn’t and don’t have that effect on me. Following on from your comment about the people you (we) see/pass without a second thought, it occurs to me that the notion of ‘touching’ is open to broader interpretation. We can be ‘touched’ by strangers in all sorts of ways and without any physical contact, and similarly ‘touch’ them. Unfortunately, if Don McCullin concludes that his harrowing images of war and famine, produced over several decades, have not made any difference, I’m not sure this series will.
          (Once again – apologies for a somewhat negative – but honest – response!)

        • “that photography is capable of fooling most of the people most of the time”
          It is interesting how people see things differently! I would never say I’d been fooled by this photograph as for me the meaning I see is in me as much as in the photograph, so I’m happy to be complicit in my seeing the same image in several different ways depending on the context given, that context informs how I see it, so that it nuances it more. Other things also inform how I see it, one of those is taking note of other people’s ways of seeing and evaluating them. I wouldn’t have thought about groping/being groped and now I have done I’ve decided it isn’t relevant to this work, there is no sense of sexual innuendo in the photographs I’ve seen, at least not the way I’ve looked at them.
          Whereas something currently on my mind is some work I looked at to do with social networking and how hard it is to properly connect with people via that medium, the artist concerned was talking about wanting to be touched and to touch and that probably partly informed my response to this idea. I’m not alone in this from what I’ve read above. Also I looked at Tanya’s link and was so horrified by the reactions of the commenters, what kind of world to we live in that people are so against the idea of just being touched!

  • This project says very interesting things about personal boundaries, and how they can be suspended temporarily for the camera. It would be nice to know whether any of these photographs led to a conversation or some further contact between the subjects or not. I suppose it also demonstrates nicely that body language isn’t always what it seems… I like it.
    I don’t understand the comments about profiting from art. Surely being able to profit from one’s art is essential – how else would artists feed their families?
    Same with the comments about rights. It is easy to assume that people are vulnerable because they appear to be so (when observed from our own perspectives and in view of our own past experiences), but the reality is that we simply don’t know whether and to what the subjects agreed.

  • I agree with this Catherine. The images lack the intimacy of people who are not strangers – the poses seem awkward – a clenched fist, a lean that’s slightly too far, head touching at the forehead not the face etc. Of course, this could just be me being conditioned by the knowledge that they are strangers. Wish I’d looked more closely at them prior to the “reveal”.

  • It’s not the profiting that I found uncomfortable, it’s the trust or lack of. If the subjects were told that they’d be put in a book (that would be sold for the artists benefit)and agreed to sitting on that basis then fine. As Susan Sontag notes photography is an aggressive, intrusive act, even more so if the subjects are not aware of the intent.

    • I don’t know that there is any evidence of the subjects not being aware of the intent watlry, Richard Rinaldi is shown in the video in fairly lengthy discussions with potential participants and elsewhere he is clear that people refuse to participate.
      Of course, there is always the issue that even the photographer may be unaware to the extent to which an image will become well known when they are negotiating consent. For example I doubt either Alec Soth or Charles had any idea that this image would become so well known at the point consent was being agreed.

  • Some people will do the strangest things for their 15 minutes of fame, holding hands with a stranger seems fairly innocuous.
    It’s not something I would do, either as a subject or as a photographer (not “me” on either side of the lens), but I do think it’s a fairly tame version of people doing what they’re told without question – some experiments (as I’m sure you’re aware) have had people inflicting pain on others because they were directed to. Poles apart on the one hand, but related I feel.
    Human nature is an odd thing in many respects.
    As for consent and trust between photographer and subjects, a few of us had an interesting discussion a while ago about something I think was called the Panhandle Project – a woman, who’s name I forget, was photographing homeless men (naked/nude which is which I forget at the moment – watch/read John Berger for insight) in return for a night in a hotel.

    • The Panhandle Project clearly deploys the Mikhailov Method then Rob!
      For those not familiar with this approach to photography, this is how the Guardian described it back in 2001:
      The artist pays the homeless “bomzhes” in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov to pose for him. He gets them to drop their pants or open their ragged coats to show the camera their diseases, their Lenin tattoos, their scars. Bare arses in the snow, cold white breasts and bellies, raddled flesh. How much Mikhailov goads or coerces his subjects and how much they are complicit, or aggressively confrontational and exhibitionistic when faced with his camera and his coins, one cannot always tell. As he sees it, his payment duplicates the economics of the new Russia. Questions about the morality of these images are surely part of their subject. Harrowing they may be, but the photographer does not seem to me to be unscrupulous. “I am no better than anyone else,” he appears to be saying. And no different, either.
      For those interested in the results, the Saatchi collection is a place to look.
      But I think we are a world away from Rinaldi’s work here. It shows the importance of not only what the photographer asks their models to do, but why. I think I do get something out of what Rinaldi is doing, he is helping me see another possible world. So unfortunately is Mikhailov.

      • I don’t think they’re the same, not by a long stretch. Just highlighting that people often do things when asked, even if they wouldn’t usually (touching that stranger). It also goes beyond the photographic – take the direction of the photographer out of the equation and people still do things when asked. I suppose it’s part of the brain that wants others to like us, doing what they ask means they’ll be appreciative…
        How the photographs get used afterwards is another matter.

  • Most people value their personal space and feel uncomfortable or even angry when their personal space is encroached. Entering that personal space is usually reserved for family, close friends or intimate moments with loved ones.
    So there’s that breaking down of that social barrier and encouraging the close contact from strangers that they’ve barely met and probably won’t meet again.
    I wonder how the images are exhibited. I think they’d work really well if the explanation behind them was left until you’d viewed the images. They sort of work on their own but ask questions, which would then be answered at the end, although you’d go around again to look again with new knowledge.

  • What I find interesting is how we would view these pictures differently if we did not know about the artists concept. I am currently studying Documentary and the need for an understanding of concept and intent are important for any project. In this case, the artist is really challenging how we interpret his re representation of reality. The reality is the subjects are strangers yet he presents them as friends, which is not true. What are we being asked to interpret? That it is possible for strangers to be seen as friends? That there is no such thing as a stranger? Whether the project has any long term value is a matters of individual opinion but it is certainly entertaining and that is important for any artist, particularly when the subject has some humour. For me, I like the idea that by staging un real relationships, the artist is manipulating photography as a means of expressing reality and his view is that opposites make for interesting reflections on how we all view strangers and perhaps ourselves.

  • When I first saw this image, I thought, ‘is this a painting?’ and I was wishing I had just come across an amazingly good one but, one second passed, and a good look quickly let me see it was not. The photograph would be a good setting for a painting though, I thought.
    Then, I read that the ‘couple’ was not an actual genuine couple. I did think that the shapes of both people’s faces looked too different to reflect the influence that people have on each other after they have been together for some time… so it was nonetheless an odd couple to me…
    Finally, my most significant thought about all this was: this is yet one more made up image that we, the public, are bombarded with; that we are expected to engage with and to respond to… I am more after images that are harmonious within my environment, that embellish it, even sublime it. I am not after images that will constantly taunt my mind, torture my spirits while I try to justify myself for thinking or feeling the way I do. There are just too many images about, to me. I have to choose what is best for me. And this is not one of them.
    … it does not help that the emotions linked to these images are too deep, even sacred, to be connected to some artificial set up. I feel truly duped. Powerless and enraged. All the more than as a spectator I am asked to help fund this project. No way.
    now I am thinking… would I make a terrible photographer myself?..

    • It is interesting that this work has provoked such strong reactions.
      One thing that I should make clear is that in the presentation of his work Richard Rinaldi is always very clear that the body of work is called ‘Touching Strangers’ and there is no attempt to trick people. The decision to present one image and then reveal it wasn’t what you might think it was in this blog post was mine. Not an attempt to dupe anyone, but a way to get people to reflect on how what they know informs what they see.

  • I think this series would make an excellent start for a short story or character sketch for Creative Writing Students!

  • When I read the article about Richard Rinaldi’s project I immediately embraced it because I do similar work, I go out and photograph the homeless people as they sit on the pavements during the day and like Richard I ask politely if it is ok to photograph them, not to exploit them but to show them as human beings, as Gareth so rightly pointed out! How many people do we pass by on a normal day and do not notice, this also reminded me of a book by Dorothea Lange entitled Daring To Look! – in it she challenges us to look at people as she saw them. I think what Richard is attempting us to do is a brave move and one that deserves credit, not a lot of cynical comments as to whether what he is hoping to achieve is right or wrong, I wish Richard all the success in his achievement.

    • “I wish Richard all the success in his achievement”
      Just to be clear, so do I, despite my earlier negative comments. And, of course, the issue of passing people by and not noticing them is a relevant – perhaps eternal – one for the human race. But if I look at this project as a contribution to the body of photographic art (and I am in total agreement with Stephanie above, that we are always having to do so in the context of a torrent of images pouring our way day after day) and assess it from that viewpoint, whilst I still wish him all the best and don’t denigrate his project as being of no value at all, it fails, in the end, to stand out – for me. Without Gareth having presented it here, I suspect that I (and maybe countless others) would have allowed it to pass by with the flow of images – just as we all allow those strangers to pass.
      Some messages in here for us all – our viewers will bring their own reading to our images, however hard we try and however good our intentions; standing out (if that is a worthy objective, of course) amongst flow is a real challenge and we need to be very good at what we do to achieve it – so study hard!

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