Since 2007, Richard Renaldi has been casting, staging and capturing ephemeral connections between complete strangers. “I’m looking for people that look as if they have a story to tell… Someone that makes you want to know more, want to look more, want to continue looking at them because they have something about them that is beautiful,” Richard tells me. It’s early afternoon, and he’s phoned me from inside his vehicle parked on a New York City side street. “And I don’t mean the traditional classical sense of beauty, but instead something that is an attractive quality—strong features, individuality, a visible hardship or softness in their face.”
From the bustling streets of New York to the lush terrain of Louisiana, Renaldi and his large-format 8×10 camera have approached pedestrians with one simple request: that they pause their normal routines and embrace new personas, within which they touch and are touched by a stranger. “I make myself vulnerable every time I’ve made a picture,” Renaldi says as he describes the many challenges of his “street casting” process. “The first few years I was just getting used to the whole setup and actually asking people to do this crazy thing.” A police siren wails through the phone receiver, but he raises his voice slightly and continues. “The subjects make themselves vulnerable too. They agree to do something that’s outside the norms of our expectations of what is publicly appropriate and acceptable.”
In Renaldi’s current Chicago exhibition, images starring individuals of various colors, shapes and sizes have been neatly hung throughout Loyola Art Museum’s second floor in clean, unobtrusive white frames. Pairings and groupings of persons lean toward one another to embrace, caress and kiss each other in staged acts of friendships that last for just one shutter click. In “Donna and Donna,” two women lean forward across a worn wooden table to clasp hands. As their gaze turns boldly outwards toward viewers and their mouths press into the same, thin-lipped expression, we find ourselves confronted by two individuals who seem to share much more than the same first names. Elsewhere, Carla stands with her hand pressed against Stanley’s chest. Her dark skin and large golden hoops draw a sharp contrast to his grey hair and neutral sweater. While Carla’s eyes are tilted confidently upwards, Stanley’s rigid posture and expression emit an aura of stiff acceptance.
A Chicago native turned New York resident, Renaldi’s photographs have been exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the United States, Asia and Europe. Most recently, he was named a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow in Photography. There is no denying the widespread reach and recognition his practice has achieved; Renaldi’s portraits offer viewers everywhere a relatable and simplistic panorama. As complete strangers of different races, religions and routines join together in loving embraces, we are shown examples of not how the world is, but how the world could be. (Maria Girgenti)
Richard Renaldi shows at Loyola University Museum of Art through August 2, 820 North Michigan Avenue.