How to Be in a Spencer Tunick Photo Shoot

First of all, for the uninformed: Spencer Tunick is the photographer who goes to a public place—i.e., a park, an art museum, a tulip farm, what have you—and fills it with hundreds of naked people, sometimes standing blank-faced, sometimes lying in heaps. There’s a deeper meaning to all of it, but it’s too complicated to get into here. He is hosting an enormous exhibition at Art Basel in 2008, comprised of photos he shot at the Sagamore Hotel in South Beach. He had about 600 volunteers, give-or-take; I was #94.

1) Do not expect this to be a nudity-is-beautiful hippie experience. A Spencer Tunick photo shoot is more like being an extra in a movie with a temperamental Hollywood director who yells at you a lot through his megaphone. Corralling 600 naked people, who are shoving each other out of the way to get in front of his camera, can be an exhausting undertaking. And yes, people do shove. So rude, right?

2) You need to pre-register to attend his shoots via his web site; the instructions say “you will be nude for only a brief period of time.” Hogwash! True, Tunick is respectful of people’s modesty, and he does instruct you to line up in formation while fully clothed, then to disrobe only when he is ready to take the shot. But then a cloud passes and you have to wait for the light, or something of the sort, and you stand and you wait. And then, with all that dressing and undressing, finally you just give up and toss your clothes in a pile until the end of the day.

3) Tunick doesn’t like tan lines, they’re distracting. Better yet, don’t be tan at all, be natural.

4) There are no secure places to put your belongings while you are au natural, you just toss everything to the side with the other 599 people. So don’t bring anything you can’t afford to lose. Jewelry is not allowed, much to the chagrin of a young female model named Lauren, who sported a shiny clit ring. Her solution: perch herself on a ledge behind my head and straddle behind me, hiding the clit ring behind my neck. And then she rubbed her boobs all over my head, but that was just for fun. Too bad I’m not into chicks.

5) Speaking of inappropriateness: there is no polite avoidance of mentioning each others’ nudity. You freely talk about each others’ stuff, boobs and trimmed/not-trimmed public hair and testicle size and such. Yes, people actually will look at you and say “Nice penis.” Although no one said that to me.

6) All walks of life will show up for the shoot: We had everything from buffed guys with pec implants and liposculptured six-pack abs, to an 86-year-old walking wrinkle who showed up just because it was “something to do.” Pudgy? Fine. Pregnant? Come on in. There was even a female-to-male transsexual, in mid-process, with bright red surgery scars slashed across his chest where his breasts used to be. But he still has a vagina. I know this because I saw it. As did everybody else there.

7) Put on sunscreen before you show up. And put it on EVERYWHERE. Ouch.

8) The images are inexplicably provocative, with the start contrast of the participants’ nudity to their blank facial expressions, mixed in with dramatic backdrops and landscapes. Getting naked in public is fun, yes, but the real thrill is in the final product, being part of something beautiful and great. Go to his exhibition at Art Basel, you will love it. And look for two photos of note: the first, he lined the Sagamore swimming pool with women lying on hot pink floating rafts, and the repetitive effect of the bodies and the colors is stunning. (Only the most petite women were asked to lie in the pool; Tunick wanted small bodies that didn’t hide too much of the rafts, “to show as much pink as possible.” Hmm.) Second, the entire group lined the pool bar and balconies above it, and shook champagne bottles to spray the fizz all over the place. We were supposed to remain blank-faced, as is always the case with his work; but as soon as that chilly champagne started to fly, we screamed. Look for the guy standing on the bottom row, dead-center at the bar’s corner. That’s me. --Dan Renzi, Volunteer No. 94