Posing Naked for Spencer Tunick
Just over a month ago, I saw on Twitter that Spencer Tunick was coming to Sydney as part of Mardi Gras. I jumped on IM with the Snook:
the naked photographer is coming to sydney: http://www.mardigras.org.au/tunick/
want to do it? 🙂
i’m deadly serious, actually.
Rodd: I saw that. I have no problem with nudity.
Me: should we do it??
i think i would like to be naked in public
i think i look good
And that was pretty much all it took. We both signed up. Last week we got the secret email with instructions about what to do, and suddenly it became very real. Could I really do this? I was surprised by my own nonchalance. Sure, I told everyone that I was comfortable with my body, but was I really? I’d only know for sure on the day.
Of course, the biggest hurdle in reality was the starting time – 4am! As Snookums said: “I like art, but I’m not sure I four-a.m.-like art.” We decided to go anyway, mostly because sleeping in seemed like a convenient excuse to chicken out. We got up at 3:30am, quickly dressed, and were picked up by the cab we’d ordered the night before. I checked Twitter on the way and saw mention of a massive traffic jam at the Quay. We got there by 4:30 and ended up walking nearly to the MCA to find the end of the queue. The line moved quickly, and we soon found ourselves handing over our model release forms in exchange for plastic bags at the Opera House. We were ushered into the Botanic Gardens and found a spot on the grass amongst hundreds of other people. It was still dark, and there was a cool wind blowing (but thankfully no rain). A few folks had brought blankets and immediately laid down to sleep, while others talked and joked with their neighbours. A man with a megaphone directed folks to the bathroom and the coffee stand. The Snook and I amused ourselves with our iPhones. I tweeted a picture of the crowded scene. A random guy streaked the crowd, jumping the gun by quite a bit. We were waiting for the sun to come up.
By 6am, excitement was building. Spencer appeared on a gantry and addressed us all. We cheered when he said that 500 more people had turned out in Sydney than in Melbourne. He told us how it would work, that those of us in the gardens would be in the forecourt while another group filled in the steps. And then just like that, a voice on a microphone said it was time to get undressed. We were meant to pack our clothes in the plastic bags and leave them in the gardens (where they would be guarded). That moment was the only moment where I got nervous, those five seconds as I kicked off my shoes and unbuckled my pants. Was I really going to pull off my underpants and walk 100m stark naked over to the Opera House, with the sun filling the sky with light behind us? And then my clothes were off, and I was as naked as everybody else, and it was okay. It was all okay.
We all walked together out into the sunshine of the empty forecourt, cheering and clapping. There were news cameras, sure, but security was keeping them way far away. I was really surprised how comfortable I felt. I honestly didn’t feel self-conscious in the slightest. There were people of all ages, colours, and shapes around us. A mother with her two 20-something daughters. A big round old guy with back hair like a bear. Women with shaved heads. Very tan men with piercings. Two parents with a small naked baby. It was amazing. Sure, there was a small percentage of people you could tell had perfect bodies (maybe 5%?), but they were all young and they’d look like the rest of us someday. The Snook and I wound up in approximately the center of the photo, at the back of the forecourt (just before the first row of steps). We faced forwards for photos; we turned around faced the House for more. We raised our arms to the sky. At one point, we all laid down on the pavement and made a carpet of human beings. (While I was comfortable for all this, the Snook was shivering. That’s what he gets for having less body fat!) Then Spencer explained that, since he was here for Mardi Gras, he wanted to capture love. He wanted us to embrace and hug (ideally kiss), even if it was just with a stranger. The Snook and I held each other as he snapped more film.
By this point, things were getting chaotic. More news crews had turned up, but were still being held at a distance. There were three helicopters circling overhead, making it difficult to hear Spencer’s instructions. Ferries were pulling in and out of the Quay, honking at our display. Spencer tried to spread us out towards the water so he could get a final shot with the Bridge in it, but without clear direction we meandered aimlessly. Finally we all faced the city as directed, and then he asked us to all look up. I turned my face to the sky. Suddenly I heard a sickening THUD. A girl 5 feet from us had collapsed on the pavement. No one knew what had happened; she just passed out. Someone asked without thinking “Does anybody have any water?!” People screamed for medics and help, but security couldn’t hear us and didn’t know why we were waving. After a minute, a thin naked man came tearing through the crowd yelling “I’m a doctor! Let me through!” He attended her while the clothed medical staff finally made it over. They covered her and helped her off… and suddenly that was it. Everyone was heading back to the Gardens. The spell was over.
The Snook and I made our way back through the gate to the Botanic Gardens. Half the crowd was already dressed, and suddenly I noticed naked people using their arms to cover up. Once the clothes started to come on, we suddenly all became aware of our nakedness. I felt embarrassed for the first time in the whole session. I dressed hurriedly, not wanting to be seen. The staff were organising for more people to go do a shoot inside the Opera House, but we were both tired and hungry. We headed off hand-in-hand through the flowers.
So that’s what happened. I can see why people would think it was a brave thing to do, but it honestly didn’t feel that way at all. There was no judgment; we all had flaws and scars and marks. Honestly, I felt less self-conscious about my size than I do wearing clothes! It was amazing. Spencer referred to the project as an installation – not just a photograph – and now I understand why. It’s one thing to look at a photo of thousands of naked people. It’s another thing entirely to actually be there, to actually experience that type of thing together. The photo will just be a reminder of how that day felt. I’m so glad we did it.