As It Happens

Photographer known for staging group nude images in public turns to video chats

For the first time in 25 years, an American photographer known for inspiring massive groups of people to pose nude in public spaces is capturing his subjects apart, in their homes, and sometimes wearing a single article of clothing: a mask.

‘It’s just a sign of resilience and life,’ says Spencer Tunick of his project Stay Apart Together

For his latest project, photographer Spencer Tunick has been getting people together on videoconferencing chats and having them pose nude from their individual homes. (Spencer Tunick/Instagram)
Listen6:22

For the first time in 25 years, an American photographer known for inspiring massive groups of people to pose nude in public spaces is capturing his subjects apart, in their homes, and sometimes wearing a single article of clothing: a mask.

"In these hard times of isolation and quarantine, people still want to go beyond their limits and get naked and communicate through visual art, through the body," Spencer Tunick told As It Happens from his home in Ramapo, N.Y.

"It's just a sign of resilience and life."

Every year, Tunick organizes at least one group nude shot with hundreds — sometimes thousands — of volunteers.

Last year, it was in front of Facebook's Manhattan headquarters, where more than 100 people — mostly women — donned their birthday suits and held images of nipples to protest the social media giant's use of censorship.

In other years, he's choreographed a sea of flesh outside the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and inspired 18,000 people to strip down in Mexico City's Zocalo square.

The photo shoots usually highlight a social, political or environmental concern, using the human body as an art form.

Thousands of naked volunteers pose for U.S. photographer Spencer Tunick at Mexico City's Zocalo square on May 6, 2007. A record 18,000 people took off their clothes to pose for the photo in the heart of the ancient Aztec empire. (Daniel Aguilar/Reuters)

But in the age of COVID-19, with borders closed and physical distancing in place, Tunick has pivoted to orchestrating his artworks through videoconferencing chats.

And it hasn't hampered interest in his work.

"I have a list of around 50,000 people that want to pose for me naked," said Tunick, whose latest project is called Stay Apart Together.

If accepted to the project, he asks his subjects to join a videoconferencing chat with a group of other people, directing their poses and taking screenshots. He then shares his work on Instagram.

Tunick is well-known for staging massive nude photo shoots in public spaces. (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

So far, the artist said he's connected with people from the United States to Sweden — all of whom have their own reasons for wanting to participate.

"One person is recovering from breast cancer, and it's a way for her to represent as a whole person and in a healed way," Tunick said. "Another person is from Syria and she wants to pose because it's her way of being free."

'A community within the chaos'

Sometimes Tunick captures images of nearly 50 people on a video call at once. At other times, smaller groups — like two lovers separated geographically by the pandemic, with one in Berlin, and the other in Mexico.

And while his signature move is photographing people without garments, Tunick's new work occasionally includes a noteworthy item of clothing — homemade face masks, something he says adds a "surreal" element, and connects audiences with what's happening right now in their lives.

He said he wishes the world wasn't facing a pandemic. However, he thinks his project is helping people find "a community within the chaos."

"Right now, for people to take their minds off of this horror, they're mostly watching Netflix or having normal videoconferences and Skypes," said Tunick. 

"And so this is an opportunity, I think, for people to actually make art over these videoconferencing platforms and to be part of something communal."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. 

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