Around 200 nude models have walked the desert of the Dead Sea as part of a mass photoshoot by American photographer Spencer Tunick, staged to bring attention to the shrinking body of water.
“It feels really natural, once you take your clothes off,” doctoral student Anna Kleiman told AFP. Like many of the others, Kleiman joined because she wanted to bring awareness to a growing environmental crisis happening at the world’s most famous salt lake.
The salt lake is the lowest point on earth, holding water that is 9.8 times as salty as that in the ocean. It has lost a third of its water since the 1960s, when water was diverted from the Jordan River that fills it to quench the thirst of populations and crops in Israel, Jordan and Syria – all countries that suffer from water scarcity.
Tunick’s photographs took place on the Israeli side of the lake, which also shares borders with the occupied West Bank and Jordan. On top of the river’s water diversion, both Jordan and Israel use huge evaporation basins to extract minerals like potash and magnesium from the water.
Regional cooperation to save the lake has met numerous obstacles. In 2013, senior Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian representatives signed an agreement to jointly develop new water resources through seawater desalination with support from the World Bank, the US and the European Union, but a few years later Israel pulled out. Jordan, which holds most of the lake’s shoreline and relies on it as a major tourism drive, has since been searching for national solutions.
Tunick visited the shoot’s location in southern Israel as a guest of the tourism ministry, and his installation was created to support the establishment of a new museum in the southeastern city of Arad to be dedicated to the Dead Sea. Ben Hamo, the mayor, hopes Tunick’s photographs might bring more visitors and help raise funds for the museum.
The museum can currently only be visited virtually, but as its founder Ari Leon Fruchter states on its website, “my goal is to one day build a physical museum that would simulate the experience of visiting the Dead Sea that is no longer possible today due to the shrinking water level and sinkholes.”
It is not Tunick’s first nude stunt at the Dead Sea, and the appearance of receding water and emerging sinkholes has not gone unnoticed. But it is the first time he has painted the models in white to represent the biblical story of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt as she turned to look back at Sodom. One of his aides told The Times of Israel that the paint would take about three days to wash off.
Not everyone in Israel is happy about Tunick’s work. A member of the country’s Knesset once attempted to pass a bill to prohibit public displays of nudity specifically because of his photography.