Friday, January 23, 2009

Kissing Strange: How It Came To Be (Alexis's Account)

Yesterday morning, my friend J and I met for breakfast. J, a scientist who studies the molecular genetics of mechanosensation signaling in North Carolina, was up visiting New York City, where I work as a producer at an advertising agency. We met at Le Pain Quotidien, a restaurant with communal tables where we could sit nursing coffees in the too early morning and talk about one of our many shared passions: photography.

Both new to the craft, we spoke about our favorite artists, websites and equipment and somewhere along the way, J mentioned a series of photos he'd seen on Cool Hunting by a photographer named Richard Renaldi. The series was called Touching Strangers. The concept? Get two strangers to pose together for a photograph. Simple enough, but add to that the instruction that the strangers must to touch and the equation becomes quite a bit more challenging, yet somehow Renaldi managed, in each of the resulting pictures, to capture an ease and familiarity in the posture and relationship of all his subjects.

To touch is to be vulnerable and vulnerability is not always a welcome quality in American society. As an American, I'm plagued by this resistance to be vulnerable, to touch or be touched, but I am equally if not more plagued by the why behind this resistance.

Why it is difficult to touch, to cross this invisible boundary of space? And what if, instead of being asked to touch, strangers were asked to kiss? Would the strangers assume that they must kiss on the lips? Would they kiss cheek to cheek? Or blow a kiss across a room? The mention of a kiss often conjures elements of sexuality, but why? We kiss our parents and children all the time - why should it be awkward for strangers do the same? Are we not all from the same human family, after all?

The Dalai Lama once said, "Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family regardless of differences in religion, culture, color and creed." What if the answer to war, greed and destruction is as simple as a kiss; a kiss of agape or philia; a kiss that recognizes that we are all in this thing called life, on this thing called earth, together?

These are the thoughts behind Kissing Strange.
Now let's get kissing.

Because we're all family

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