Photographer Richard Renaldi has a simple project: take strangers on the streets of New York City, and have them pose as if they were close friends, family members or lovers. The photos themselves are compelling, but it's the effect they have on the participants that's really special. Renaldi’s photos show that many people have an easy time simulating intimacy when it’s understood that both sides are faking it. The really interesting part comes afterward, when the subjects are interviewed (by CBS reporter Steve Hartman).
“It was sort of awkward, but then sort of not,” says one participant, a middle-aged woman who posed with two teenage girls. “We are probably missing so much about the people all around us.”
“I felt like I cared for her,” said a poetry teacher about the 95 year-old Japanese woman who he had just met. Both he and the lady quoted above sound genuinely surprised at the real warmth they felt, just by pretending to be warm.
Renaldi echoes their sentiments:
“Everyone seems to have come away with kind of a good feeling. It’s lovely.”
This is old news, but people have the same basic needs, and emotional warmth is high on the list. We tend to draw elaborate narratives around what brings people together and makes them care about each other, but it’s actually a very natural process that grows from proximity. Actual human contact speeds the process up like little else. In the same way you can make your body actually salivate by thinking about food or make your feet sweat (for traction) by thinking about running, you can have real feelings of connectedness and warmth, through just a few minutes of fake it till you make it.
That’s worth remembering now and again.