The aptly named Internet brings us together, criss-crossing what once were nations with communities enslaved to the grid. It’s the latest advantage of civilization.
The Cassandra chorus warn us, neo-Luddites all a-lather. “It’s isolation,” they croon. “It will fragment us all.”
But the web also enhances connectivity. It can also help reiterate the power of art with stories we would have never seen in earlier times.
Like Big Apple fashion photographer Richard Renaldi and his ongoing project to snap compositions on the street with his 8-by-10 box camera. His subjects are in always touching – some at arms’ length, some enmeshed in physical embrace. And they are all strangers … to each other.
“I had been working on a project photographing people in bus stations across the United States and I came across circumstances where I wanted make people in the same frame, that were waiting together but were strangers to each other,” Renaldi said in interview with flickr.net. “Out of that I thought that there was something really rich to explore. That is what actually led me to the idea of putting strangers together.”
So he moved his set-up to the street. He would approach the strangers, tell them about the project then ask if they would volunteer. Many eagerly agreed.
“Some of the very early ones, they’re just holding hands or their arms are around each other,” Reenaldi said. “Very conventional approaches to touch. But what I found myself wanting was more intimate contact. There are some where people are actually kissing or nuzzling up to each other. And then there are some that are very uncomfortable.”
He called the whole process “rewarding.” He said he knows it stirs something in viewers. They can be seen at touchingstrangers.org.
“When they see these photographs, they ask themselves ‘what would I do if some photographer approached me on the street and asked me to touch a stranger?’ Audience reactions ran the gamut from uncomfortable and creeped out to feeling really moved. Some people wrote me and said that these pictures brought them to tears,” Rinaldi said.
He also said most viewers reflexively try to construct associations between the subjects. Until they discover the subjects are utter strangers, they assume they are family, lovers, friends and have begun that association.
And some of the subjects said they’ve felt gaps bridged and barriers breached by taking part. Their awareness of connection to another person is enhanced.
The project brings to mind a Proximity Booth featured in an early Temporal City Festival. An ongoing project by elizabet elliott, it promised two minutes in privacy “for only a dollar” that could be filled with “eye contact, hand holding, secret keeping and truth telling.” Which truth and how subjective were up for debate.
What she sought sounded much the same as Rinaldi, just more direct in application. It cut to the core of the artistic endeavor.
Without art, my life would be wretched. No music, no design, no visuals or sculpture. No books or stories. No animation or theater or films. Not even scribbling and doodling while in meetings or on the phone.
Without art, I wouldn’t found an animated story online featuring the cartoon interpretations of an older couple interviewed in the audio track. Named Danny and Annie, they recounted their meeting, their quick courtship that resulted in Danny beseeching matrimony in curt terms.
I would have never heard Danny tell about the enduring love for his wife, how she made his existence worthwhile. Regardless of his day’s trials, he cherished finding her presence.
Never would I have heard Annie tell how Danny called her at 3 p.m. every April 22 – the time their fates were hitched – and asked her if she would do it all over again. Her agreement was constant.
Danny was diagnosed with cancer after decades in marriage. Once again, he found strength in his wife.
“I feel her love in how she lights up the room when I wake up in the morning, in how she tells me to put my hands on her shoulders to help me stand up, how she tells me I need to drink more water,” Danny said.
Danny died the week after the interview was recorded. It was also the day the animated film was first revealed to the public.
Annie received thousands of condolence letters and reads one each day. Someone has taken to sending her Valentine’s Day cards, as well.
For Annie, that art was more than a flight of fancy. And for the people it reached and touched, who then reached out and touched her, it was more than a fancy frill for modern life.
It kept Annie close to what meant life itself for her. If that’s a miracle, then art is it.