I love human interest stories. They’re the ones they tag onto the end of a newscast to keep us watching right up until the final commercials. They’re the ones about interesting, unique, or extraordinary people. Many are centered on folks you’d walk right past on the street never giving a second thought. Yet they have a unique story or an unusual gift or talent.
One of my favorite recent human interest stories is from CBS. It’s about Richard Renaldi, a New York City photographer who is working on a series of photographs called Touching Strangers. He brings together on the streets of New York City people who have never met and poses them in portraits like intimate family. You can watch the CBS human interest piece on Richard’s project here.
What is striking about the piece is that the people in the portraits usually have two very different reactions before and after the picture is taken:
- Before the photo is taken they are reluctant. You can see it on their faces and in their body language. How would you feel if someone pulled you together on the street with someone you had never met before and asked you to actually touch and have your portrait taken? It’s uncomfortable.
- After the photo is taken they are pleasantly surprised. The people in the CBS story say things like: “I felt like I cared for her. It broke down a lot of barriers” and “We are probably missing so much about the people all around us.”
It’s a good reminder. What are you missing about the people all around you? How often do you take the time to actually get to know people? What do you know about your waitress or the person behind the cash register?
Steve Hartman, the reporter who does the piece for CBS, suggests that these portraits capture “humanity as it could be.” Now I’m not suggesting that taking intimate portraits with strangers will change the world. But I am suggesting that a little intimacy in the form of a simple conversation where we do most of the listening could most definitely be a great start.
I was once involved with a community organization that had us sitting down and having conversations with people. These were usually people from a completely different end of the political spectrum, from a different side of the city, or from a different race or nationality. I can tell you from experience that these simple conversations brought about great friendships that would have never happened otherwise. I’m still astonished at the relationships that were formed when people simply asked questions and listened to one another.
What are you missing about the people all around you? How about initiating a conversation today? Ask a question, then sit back and listen. Take a picture together.
You might just get a glimpse of humanity as it could be.
When have you been surprised by a relationship that you never saw coming?