Something I really like about being a grown-up is that I don't have to explain why I do everything I do. One spring morning I got up at 5 a.m. and presented myself at a certain downtown street corner. I took off all my clothing, I lay down on the pavement and I had my picture taken.
Do you know the work of Spencer Tunick? People are often pretty passionate about his art: They love it or they hate it; there's little middle ground.
Spencer is an artist/photographer who has been taking pictures of groups of naked people in public places in hundreds of cities worldwide, since 1992. He juxtaposes the softness of the human body against the hardness of city streets.
Spencer feels sometimes like an explorer and sometimes like a criminal. Most of the time, he feels like an artist who creates his work under very stressful conditions. The nude bodies themselves aren't so controversial, he says. The controversy lies in the fact that he uses the city as his landscape. The conditions in which he creates his work are 'tense, crazed and unpredictable'. His models are 'urban adventurers and he helps them see the world in a different way'. He creates 'memories they will hold forever'.
This urban adventurer saw a notice in the newspaper: “Pose nude for a group photograph by Spencer Tunick in downtown Montréal. Wear loose clothing and no jewelry. You will be nude for a few minutes and the entire event will take 20 minutes. In exchange for posing you will receive a print of the event signed by the artist. If interested, reply by email.” I'm no nudist but I could not resist this unique opportunity.
The event was totally endorsed by the City of Montréal (which might have sucked some of the air out of Tunick's badboy persona, but hey, that's the kind of city this is). Police set up barricades ensuring only we imminent strippers could enter the vicinity. Gawkers were kept at a distance.
2500 people of all shapes and sizes had registered to participate.
Spencer assessed the size of the crowd and positioned the aerial lift from which he would take the first picture. Then we got our instructions: “Remove all clothing, leave it in a pile on the sidewalk and walk westward on Ste. Catherine Street until reaching the trio of police cars. Stand close together, and when you hear the whistle, collapse on the pavement. Fall naturally. Don’t reposition yourself for comfort, and please, no talking. Now get undressed.”
And without hesitation, we did. I didn't want to see anything too gross so I kept my head upright at all times, not looking below anyone's shoulders. I suspect others did the same. It was weird and it was wonderful. But hot and sexy? Probably about as erotic as a meeting of your grandmother's bridge club.
Spencer took three different pictures in the streets next to Place des Arts and on the grounds itself. That's me next to the pole on the right-hand side. I was actually laying across a sewer.
There was a brief delay between each shot but there was no naked mingling. Three times we got naked and three times we got dressed, each time leaving our clothes and shoes in a little pile somewhere on the asphalt.
By the time we disrobed for the last pic, the routine had become somewhat banal, at least to me. I'd grown oh-so-blasé and didn’t make a mental note of exactly where I'd put my clothing. And wouldn't you know it, after the final shot, the stuff went missing.
Swear to god, it was like living in an unfunny skit on Saturday Night Live. Totally starkers, I darted frantically amongst the half-dressed and fully-dressed people leaving the premises, looking for my little pile. It's not so easy to see a clump of clothes on the road when one's view is obstructed by 2500 pairs of legs.
An hour later - well it felt like an hour; it was probably about five minutes - the stuff turned up and I returned home pretty darn pleased with myself.