‘Touching Strangers’ Project Breaks Down Barriers

photographer walking holding cameraSince 2007, Richard Renaldi, a photographer based in New York City, has been exploring what happens when he pairs carefully selected strangers together for intimate, impromptu photo shoots as part of an ongoing series he calls “Touching Strangers.”

To achieve his desired result, Renaldi specifically chooses people of different races, ages, styles, socioeconomic backgrounds, and genders to pose together as if they were lovers, family members, or friends. There are now hundreds of photos in the “Touching Strangers” collection, a selection of which is available for viewing at renaldi.com. And thanks to the more than $80,000 Renaldi managed to raise via a 2013 Kickstarter campaign, he will soon be publishing a photobook of the images—taken primarily in New York, but also in Albuquerque, Chicago, and southern California.

As part of his “On the Road” series, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman caught up with Renaldi as he captured some of these moments on camera on the streets of NYC.

The video makes it clear that the subjects being filmed felt some initial awkwardness in being told to embrace or stare into the eyes of someone they had just met. After holding these positions for the duration of the photo shoot, however, their feelings of discomfort dissipated and made room for that warm, comforting sensation most people are accustomed to experiencing while being held or touched by a loved one.

One young male poetry teacher who participated and was asked to pose with a 95-year-old retired female fashion designer was a bit skeptical at first. But once the shoot was complete, his position had changed. “I felt like I cared for her … like I broke down a lot of barriers,” he said.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering that the simple act of touching someone’s shoulder has been shown to alleviate fear and anxiety, particularly over existential concerns in life, and hugging is known to trigger the production of oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding, feeling secure, increasing trust, and lowering cortisol levels, thereby reducing overall stress. Holding hands has also been shown to reduce the body’s stress response and anxiety levels (Dworkin-McDaniel, 2011).

This falls right in line with Renaldi’s observations through working with his subjects. As he told CBS News, “Everyone seems to have come away with a good feeling…. It’s lovely.”


  1. Dworkin-McDaniel, N. (2011, January 5). Touching makes you healthier. CNN.com. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/05/touching.makes.you.healthier.health/index.html
  2. Hartman, S. (2013, August 11). Richard Renaldi’s ‘Touching Strangers.’ CBS News “On the Road.” Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/richard-renaldis-touching-strangers/

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  • Rena


    January 10th, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    this truly sounds beautiful
    to capture those barriers melting awaay before your eyes must have truly been remarkable
    something that most of us will never get to witness

  • Kelvin


    January 10th, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    I would love to see how something like this brings total strangers together in ways that you may have only minutes before thought unthinkable. You are talking about combining all walks of life, all different backgrowunds, etc and bringing them together and in minutes showing them their commonalities with one another. This is a lesson as to what life is supposed to be all about, not the divisions that we allow to always create barriers between us.

  • donald


    January 11th, 2014 at 5:03 AM

    would love to know from the photographer how many people he approached who were hesitant to participate at first, but then had a completely different reaction after then shot was finished.

  • Joey


    January 13th, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    Cool project for sure. Does anyone know if the photo subjects that were put together have stayed in touch since? Now that would be really cool to know that a new friendship had formed as a result of their participation in this.

  • Jason


    January 14th, 2014 at 4:01 AM

    I knew all of the information about how touching and being with people that you love helps to imporve your health. Do you find that the results are equitable with touching strangers, or at least once that connection has been made? I would not think that the change would be quite as apparent but it would still have to have some sort of benefit, yes?

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