When pop group Queen came out with an album cover displaying a photograph of a crowd of naked women on bicycles it was quite sensational. Fifteen years later or so we were looking at the by then slightly discoloured record sleeve wondering, my boss and I, what it would take to produce a shot like that again. It was in the late eighties by then, and model rights and nudity fees were really quite a concern making the proposition commercially hardly feasible. Not to mention the inhibitions of those called upon to strip in public.
Now it’s 2007 and it seems things really have moved on a bit, since it has been possible for the American photographer Spencer Tunick to travel the world and shoot crowds of people in the nude in open settings for no other reward than a copy of the resulting photograph.
This is roughly how I could make out it works from newspaper articles:
You get the news on the internet and invite all would be photo-nudists to some location, apparently they turn up by the hundreds, and then transport them by buses into the actual secret spot where you want to take the photograph. This to try at least to limit the amount of curious bystanders and possibly parasite shooters that may want to crowd in on the happening, uninvited.
Then proceed as usual with large groups of people, directing and so on, and get the shots.
Now there are a few factors that make the production somewhat easier than in the Queen album days: first of all Spencer’s people aren’t photo models but a mixed blend of both sexes of any age and size. Good looks obviously not being a requirement he is in any way concerned about: he goes for sheer nudity and numbers plus unusual setting for effect.
Secondly the internet makes it a lot easier to recruit, spread the news around and collect volunteers from every walk of life for any project you can think of. In fact some maniac even found somebody who agreed to be brutally murdered and eaten through this medium. Whatever one gets a kick out of, I guess.
What really leaves me puzzled is why on earth should we be in the least interested in the photographs. They are not artistic, they do not mean anything, they are just slightly weird and thus amusing. It seems to me all the buzz really is more about the happening itself, the posing of so many in public, than anything else. As a news photo it has all the impact and value it will ever have. Just a curiosity, a trite PR gimmick to attract the attention of the media.
I leave it to the psychologists to explore why we keep finding nudity so intriguing - even though it has become to a large extent quite commonplace on any beach resort or health club - even in a display as totally devoid of sensuality or beauty as that of Tunick’s work. As a photographer, I am at a loss here.
While everyone on the set is in the nude, it’s Spencer Tunick himself, like the emperor in the well known tale, who stands out: talentless and naked.