Outtakes: Richard Renaldi

Outtakes is a series of interviews with contemporary photographers who have been asked to share alternate versions of some of their most meaningful, successful and celebrated images. By looking at these outtakes along with the final image and by hearing from the artist directly, we hope to examine the different working methods and criteria that photographers regularly employ in an effort to push past the romanticism of the singular, iconic image and learn more about the way photographs are really made.

Outtakes comes from photographer Joshua Dudley Greer and continues today with images from Richard Renaldi.

Richard Renaldi was born in Chicago in 1968 and earned his BFA from New York University in 1990. Since that time, he has been traveling and photographing extensively for a number of different projects that intimately explore human identity and relationships. His first monograph, Figure and Ground, was published by Aperture in 2006, followed by Fall River Boys in 2009 through Charles Lane Press. His most recent project, Touching Strangers, was published by Aperture earlier this year and is currently being exhibited at Aperture Gallery in NYC.


Scott, Laramie, Wyoming, 2005 © Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

Scott, Laramie, Wyoming, 2005

Joshua Dudley Greer: This first image is from the series that would become your first book, Figure and Ground, which was published by Aperture in 2006. That work is a combination of two classical genres of picture making - portraits and landscapes, but the vast majority of pictures are portraits. You're working with an 8x10 view camera and here we see four different photographs of the same subject. Was that common for you at that time?

Richard Renaldi: Actually not at all. Back then I usually used only one or occasionally two sheets of film per subject. I specifically remember making more photographs of Scott because I thought that he might fit into another project that I was working on at the time.

JDG: I can't help but sense that at times the places where these portraits were made have some significance. At least in my mind, Laramie, Wyoming will forever be connected with the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard. Was this something that you were thinking about when you encountered this subject?

RR: Very much so. I stopped in Laramie because I was curious about this place I had heard about in the news. I don't think I had ever even known of it prior to the murder of Matthew Shepard. It's very interesting that you asked this question because Scott was the one person I met in Laramie that I actually discussed the story of Matthew Shepard with. He told me that he had met him and that it wasn't actually a hate crime but a drug deal gone bad. I don't know about the veracity of that statement but I do remember talking with Scott about Reagan Youth and how they were an anti-racist band and one of his tattoos as you can see has a swastika with an X through it.

JDG: We see Scott in a variety of different attire - sometimes shirtless, with and without a hat. Would it be fair to assume that you are responsible for these differences? Did those differences factor into your selection of the final image?

RR: I am responsible for those changes. I wish I could say I get all of my subjects to undress for me ha ha, but as I said earlier I was working on another project at the time and wanted to show Scott's tattoos for the Tattoo Boys series I had been working on.

JDG: Is it possible that you would use another image of Scott for this other project or is that something that you would generally avoid?

RR: Yes, I have no problem with that.

JDG: So whether or not you find an image as successful as another is largely determined by the context in which you place that image?

RR: I don't think that is what I am saying. Context is certainly important but I think an image should also be able to stand alone and hold the viewer's attention. The exception to that might be when you are sequencing a book and sometimes you want a different type of image for a break or change in the rhythm. Sometimes those end up being quieter images or having some other quality that sets it apart from the majority of the work. That day I made more than one strong image of Scott and because I saw him fitting into another body of work I was able to take advantage of the fact that I made multiple images of him that were successful. This type of circumstance is pretty rare for me.


Thomas, 2005 © Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

Thomas, 2005

JDG: This photograph was made the same year as Scott, Laramie, Wyoming and even though they're from separate projects they seem to share many similarities - changing up of the scale, removing the hat, etc. Is there something here that is indicative of how you approach a stranger you want to photograph?

RR: Good question Joshua. I think this is more of a coincidence than my general approach. However, when people are wearing hats I am often curious about what they look like without them. I think an alternative view of a subject's face other than how they looked when you found them has the potential to be more broadening. One other point that I do remember around this time is trying to be more diverse in how I approached the framing of my subjects. I was making efforts to step out of my habit of center framing my subject's full body - head to toe.

JDG: You've selected the tightest view, almost completely eliminating the context of his surroundings, and there seems to be a tension in his face that wasn't as noticeable in the other views. This image became the cover for your second monograph Fall River Boys, is there something about this particular picture that you felt best represented the entire series?

RR: Yes, the tension in his face felt like it told a part of the story I wanted to tell about growing up in a post-industrial, lower-middle class town like Fall River. Originally I had thought about something more seductive like the arresting portrait of the tattooed shirtless young man Craig with goose bumps all over his bare chest. When my designer Andrew Sloat presented us with an alternative cover I immediately took to it and felt it was the direction we should go with the cover image. TJ had some life experiences already at his young age and I think that shows in the close-up of his face.


Ashtabula, Ohio, 2012 © Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

Ashtabula, Ohio, 2012

JDG: This image is from your longest running series, Hotel Room Portraits, which features you and your partner in a variety of hotel rooms all around the world. Is there something specific that is taking you guys to places like Cuba, Italy, Morocco, Thailand and all parts of the US?

RR: Usually nothing other than the love of travel and adventure. We have the traveler's bug!

JDG: I love the idea of traveling thousands of miles to all these extraordinary locations only to photograph the inside of a hotel room. It seems almost like a stance against exoticism.

RR: That's really well put and an interesting take. Being the photography addict that I am however, I am always making pictures when I travel. I only recently put together some of these other images I make while traveling into a series titled The Crossing. I think the hotel room portraits are not only about self-portraiture. There are many cultural signposts contained within these varying hotel rooms and those clues speak to cultural and national identities. The architecture of hospitality and class are additional themes that have emerged out of making these photographs.

JDG: Yeah, those things are so interesting to include in portraits such as these because they don't necessarily communicate anything specifically about you. We've become so accustomed to using the surrounding space of an environmental portrait to infer certain things about the people depicted within those spaces, but this kind of challenges that idea. So when we view this series as a whole, the context is always shifting, but you and your partner are the constants.

RR: We (as well as our relationship) are the constants. Although, the one thing that does change in regards to Seth and myself is our appearance. Our bodies have changed quite a bit over the years; from more boyish, to extremely worked out, to less so today. Additionally there has been a progression and increase in the amount of ink on my body. Seth and I have always imagined doing this project until we are no longer able to get around, so I imagine and hope that there will be images of us as grey, weathered shrunken old men by the time we are through!

JDG: You're well known for using the 8x10, but this work appears to be made with small format cameras, 35mm and DSLR. How does that affect your way of working, both in terms of shooting and editing?

RR: I am freer to shoot more liberally and try different things. That I can instantly see what I have made allows me to make sure I get it right every time we hotel it. That is not a luxury I always have with the view camera.

JDG: Right, there are many slight differentiations between these four pictures in terms of the lighting, composition, clothing, posture, etc. Do you think you wouldn't have all of those variations if you were working with a view camera?

RR: I would have variations for certain, but I suspect I would be more cautious if were I photographing this project with a view camera. As you know with digital you are able to photograph until the cows come home and it costs you no more than the time you put into it. With a view camera you don't have that luxury. I also can't imagine there would be the same quantity of images - I can easily imagine not having the time or energy to shoot large format at every single hotel we spent the night at and travelling with a view camera all over the globe every time we go somewhere is not a realistic commitment. The SLR lends itself to getting it done and with the scope and breadth of this project I think it is really a necessity.

JDG: Can you pinpoint what it is about the final image that you find more successful than the others?

RR: Small things like the position of our feet, our facial expressions, exposure, and I would say the overall harmony.


Nathan and Robyn, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 2012 © Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

© Richard Renaldi

Nathan and Robyn, Provincetown, Massachusetts, 2012

JDG: In your latest project and book, Touching Strangers, you're working out on the street and encouraging complete strangers to physically connect with one another in some way. How does this process usually work?

RR: I approach potential subjects and explain to them what I am doing, "making family portraits out of strangers," and then show them examples on my smart phone or tablet. If they have agreed to this, they have to wait until I can procure a companion for them. That's when the pressure is really turned up.

JDG: So in this particular case, which person was discovered first?

RR: Nathan, the police officer.

JDG: And then in your mind are you looking or hoping for something in particular to pair up with him?

RR: The pairs are so circumstantial that I can only hope that a suitable partner comes along. I don't think I often had a type of person in mind for the second subject. Sometimes I had an idea of a subject that I was hoping to add to the project but the partner was in almost every circumstance I can think of dependent on chance and serendipity. Sometimes on occasion a subject that I was "looking" for would end up as the second person in a pairing. That I found a pubescent girl with an American flag on her shirt to pair with this police officer in full regalia was probably due to my tenacious nature and a bit of luck.

JDG: It seems like one of the biggest challenges with this work would be managing the awkwardness in terms of the gestures and the physical interaction. I think the three images we see here are great examples of how those variations can affect our understanding or misunderstanding of the subjects' relationship.

RR: I think all three are actually interesting to look at and if I never made the image in front of the vertical wooden siding that is now the cover of Touching Strangers I likely would have included one of the other two in the book. Perhaps the outtakes feel a little more casual and familiar than the chosen image but I think the sentiment isn't that far apart between the three images. I am drawn to the image I chose because it has a pleasing formalism, it is a strongly graphic image, and has an elegance that might be missing from the other two.


Joshua Dudley Greer (b.1980 Hazleton, PA) received his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2002 and his MFA, with distinction, from the University of Georgia in 2009. His photographs have been exhibited throughout the United States in venues such as the Knoxville Museum of Art, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Catherine Edelman Gallery. His photographs have been published in The Collector's Guide to New Art Photography Volume 2, Flash Forward 2010, Smithsonian Magazine and Le Monde. He has received grants from the Maryland State Arts Council, Tennessee Arts Commission and in 2012 was named one of the New Superstars of Southern Art by Oxford American. He is currently living in Johnson City, Tennessee where he is a visiting assistant professor of photography at East Tennessee State University.