One day in late April 2002, I was browsing the Reuters web site when a news item from Sao Paulo, Brazil, caught my eye. Having a friend in that city, I clicked on it to see what it was about, and it was a news article about Spencer's installation there, involving more than 1,000 people. I was quite intrigued, and read on. It dawned on me that the photographer, Spencer Tunick, was the same one who'd photographed over 1,000 people nude at a Phish concert in Maine some years back, and had done photos in Boston, my hometown. My intrigue grew, and I began to research Spencer's work on the web. It also began to dawn on me that if possible, I'd like to be a part of something like this. Like most people, I'd never done anything even close to this, and wanted to be a part of something so enriching, so exotic.
So, one day in May, I called up the gallery that had shown Spencer's "Naked States" exhibition, the I-20 Gallery in Manhattan. I asked when Spencer's "Naked World" exhibition would arrive (exhibiting the photos in Brazil, among others), and I worked up the nerve and asked whether Spencer had anything like this planned in the future. Imagine my surprise when the person at the gallery said "June first", and that an event was planned somewhere in lower Manhattan on that date. I'd thought Spencer may not do such an installation again, and even if he would, he would wait some time after getting back from his world tour. But apparently, he was jumping right back into it. The light hit me quite clearly; here was my chance.
I emailed I-20 for info on the event, and I got an email back very shortly with an email address for Art in General, which is a non-profit artists' support organization in Manhattan. They were celebrating their 20th anniversary, and several artists were creating pieces of work for the celebration. Spencer was among those artists, and he was creating a photo in celebration of this anniversary. For the first time in my life, I didn't "think about it"; I took the plunge, and immediately signed up. I also couldn't believe the timing; I'd taken that week off from work as a vacation anyway, so I'd have that Friday to travel from Boston (where I live) to New York (about 200 or so miles away).
I invited my wife to come along to participate, but unfortunately she declined. I decided to go it alone, and made arrangements to take a bus (about 4 1/2 hour trip) to New York on Friday, May 31. I got to NY about 5 in the afternoon, and checked in at a hotel near where the event would take place; namely, in Cortlandt Alley between White and Walker Streets in lower Manhattan, right next to where Art in General is located. I had only a light vegetarian meal for dinner, with water---no alcohol at all, as I didn't want to drink too much, and then oversleep!! All that planning and traveling for nothing, it would've driven me nuts! As I wanted to be sure I didn't do anything that would prevent my getting up and to the site on-time, I simply retired to my hotel room for some rest. Of course, I didn't sleep a wink the entire night. I mostly grabbed the pillow, flipper-kicked the mattress, giggled and repeated "I can't believe what I'm about to do."
Soon, 4:00 rolled around, then 4:25. I got dressed, and paced until the clock read 4:30. Even though I was a five-minute walk (if that) from the site, I decided to go out. I went out into the pre-dawn darkness, and walked the couple of blocks over to Walker Street. I saw where Art in General was located, but walked past there, down Lafayette Street, past the intersection with White Street. There, I saw some people milling about, and instinctively I knew it was "them". I walked up a little ways on Lafayette Street, just to collect myself one last time, then I backtracked and walked to Art in General. A few people were in front there, and a young woman asked if I were there for the "installation". The point of no return, I thought. I said I was, and she directed me down Cortlandt Alley to where those people were milling around. It was "them", after all. I got there, and there were all these people there, plus I recognized Spencer, in a black t-shirt and jeans.
Soon Spencer told everyone to come inside the warehouse that was right where we were meeting. This wasn't for Art in General, but for a tool-making company, which apparently had given their permission to Spencer and Art in General to do a shoot inside. 5:00 came, then 5:15. I looked around, and the crowd was maybe split half-and-half between the genders, with maybe even slightly more women than men; they also were for the most part young, late teens to mid-20s. (I was 33 at the time.) Then, Spencer got on a stepladder, and gave instructions. In the warehouse, we were going to do a couple of "drops" where we would lay as if dropped from the sky, and then outside in the alley, where we'd shoot a regular shape with our heads pointed towards one wall and our feet towards the other. Spencer advised us, "no yoga poses", and "no legs spread towards the camera". (That one got a few laughs.) He also cautioned us not to make too much noise, because if someone called the police he'd get arrested.
Then, he said something like "let's get started", and people started to strip off their clothes. And, so did I, experiencing a high yet calm state like absolutely nothing I'd ever experienced. We all gathered, and did a couple of drops. On the first one, after we dropped and were lying still, it was so quiet; I vividly remember smelling the metal section of floor on which I laid. Then, I could hear Spencer saying things like "This is great; this is fantastic", and then the shutter of the camera snapping. Crazily, I thought, "My God, he's taking my picture!" I guess it didn't hit me emotionally till right then. It was a wonderful feeling, though.
After the drops, we put on our clothes, and went outside, where it was finally light enough. It was about quarter to six. We gathered around on White Street, and then Spencer yelled out, "Let's do it!" We did it, all dropping our clothes into White Street and walking nude into Cortlandt Alley. Spencer did a shoot with us lying prone, heads down, eyes closed, then another with our heads picked up and looking at him. To be lying there among all those nude bodies, and being one myself, looking out across all that, in the alley, was a feeling that I could best describe as "transported". Then, he yelled out "thank you", and we all went out (brushing the grit off our backs and legs) with Spencer thanking us.
Many of us (including Spencer) then went to a diner a few blocks away, and I had some coffee and something to eat with people with whom I'd been naked just fifteen minutes before! And, they were some of the most pleasant and wonderful people that I could imagine meeting. I even got to chat with Spencer a little bit. He was very accommodating, and seemed genuinely thankful that we all showed up to pose for him. I thanked him back, and meant it.
All in all, one of the best experiences I've ever had, and to this day, nearly a year later, I'm happier still that the opportunity presented itself, and I took advantage of it.
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