While he is preparing to teach a La Luz Workshop, Circumferences of Self in October, online, Richard Renaldi took some time out to speak with Esthetic Lens. He discusses photographing for the New Yorker in NYC during the pandemic, a new self-portrait project linked to the social protest movement, and a deeper exploration of the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
1. How are you holding up?
I am doing alright. I miss visiting with family and friends who are farther away. Now that society seems to be settling into a semi-functional state of living with COVID we have created a couple of friend pods that we feel comfortable being around – this is very welcome but of course it would feel better without the accompanying anxiety. I know some people that have had mild to severe cases and also a couple of people a few degrees of separation that passed away. I’ve thought a lot about the AIDS crisis and the similarities and differences between these two pandemics.
The political situation for me is a greater source of anxiety. It’s hard to imagine what another four years of an absolute corrupt executive branch will do to American life and our institutions. At least a Biden win would hold back the onslaught of corruption and ineptitude – though we have multiple crises ahead no matter how you cut it.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?
Yes for certain. I did a job for the New Yorker on the Apex of the Coronavirus in New York City on April 15th. This was assignment photography that I found meaningful and will serve as an important document about the height of the pandemic in New York City. Though I was anxious while photographing around New York City, the experience also gave me some perspective about working in the age of COVID-19. In June I picked back up working on a continuing series which entails making portraits of strangers in and outside of business establishments. There are a host of new safety protocols that I incorporated into making work in public, as well as integrating into the imagery the necessary and prolific mask-amour worn by my subjects.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
This year I began a new self-portrait project that is a response to a familial disagreement around the current social protest movement. I hope to continue this project through the end of the year. I am photographing this series with a DSLR, on a tripod, and with a self-timer that connects to an accompanying mobile app. Before this, I rarely used a tripod with an SLR; I definitely feel that I have expanded and opened up my practice to even more possibilities in broadening how I approach making work.
4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?
Elinor Carucci has made some really compelling work surrounding COVID. I have also seen some strong self-portraits by Pete Muller. And of course, Sam Youkilis’s Instagram feed is joyful, insightful, and brave.
5. Are there any artists, albums, or genres of music you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?
I’ve gotten more into Jazz this year in particular Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I also really have been seeking more international music out. There is beautiful amazing music being made all across the globe and it doesn’t really matter if I can’t understand the lyrics. There’s something deeper going on that’s universal.
Richard Renaldi was born in Chicago in 1968. He received a BFA in photography from New York University in 1990. He is represented by Benrubi Gallery in New York and Robert Morat Galerie in Berlin. Five monographs of his work have been published, including Richard Renaldi: Figure and Ground (Aperture, 2006); Fall River Boys (Charles Lane Press, 2009); Touching Strangers (Aperture, 2014); Manhattan Sunday (Aperture, 2016); I Want Your Love (Super Labo, 2018). He was the recipient of a 2015 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
Richard Renaldi will be teaching a La Luz Workshop, Circumferences of Self in October 2020. There are a few spots left if you want to apply.