July

1999

Not Naked

Spencer Tunick is a photographer. He takes large group photographs of groups of people. He also prefers that those people be naked. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to fly in New York City. Tunick was arrested in Times Square this April after getting 175 people to lie down naked in the middle of Times Square. That action has transformed Tunick’s art, previously a quiet, private endeavor, into a civil rights issue. At 5:30 Sunday morning, Tunick was going to take another photograph, on Catherine street in Chinatown. I was there. The invitation that I recieved said “participants only,” which was unsurprising. Because I don’t read the newspapers, I was unaware of the media coverage of this shoot; apparently, Tunick had been denied his permit to shoot nude by the city. He appealed, and Judge Harold Baer overturned the city’s ruling, stating that New York law allows public nudity as part of a play or artistic exhibition. However, the City attempted to overturn the judge’s decision, and Saturday night stated that they would arrest any nude individuals, in defiance of the actual law.

Myself and my friend G. met at 4:30 and took a taxi down to Chinatown. We were confronted by a crowd of nearly 250 people, and 25-30 photographers, video cameras, and other press. Tunick stood up on a ladder, obviously having lost control of the situation. He stated that he would be taking the photograph he had planned to take, but the models would be clothed. Those who were going to be in the picture were issued pink slips of paper – G. and I got ours and were herded to the sidewalk. Surrounding the crowd were about 40 uniformed policemen, each carrying ten pairs of disposable plastic handcuffs, ready to arrest any nudists. As the sun rose over Chinatown, we were led into the street, instructed to curl up into “little balls” and look anywhere but the camera. Tunick was adamantly directing the crowd: “Don’t pose! Don’t smile! Don’t look at the camera,” but many of the assembling throng, obviously caring less about the photograph than their own notoriety, were making hand signals, smiling like idiots, or stripping down to boxer shorts. That was something I’d noticed; most of these people didn’t care a whit about Tunick or his art; they were there to see naked people and be seen naked; it was just a huge joke for them, something wacky to tell their friends about. Tunick took his pictures, and we got up and went home. Nobody was arrested. I got home at 7AM Sunday morning and slept until 2pm. If you see a copy of the photograph, I’m wearing overalls, near the back.