It's difficult to fall asleep at 10 PM on a Saturday, especially when Secret Service choppers are circling overhead, making a racket. But Spencer Tunick, a photographer best known for his large-scale nude shoots, is accustomed to willing himself into slumber before a big shoot. That's because for reasons that have to do with both logistics and lighting, he often has to rise before dawn.
His most recent work was especially difficult to pull off, even for someone who once arranged 7,000 naked bodies in Barcelona for the sake of art, and later got 18,000 models to disrobe in Mexico City. After all, he'd never done something similar in the United States, where, as he puts it, "the naked body is viewed as crime or violence." And on the eve of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, an event where conflict is pretty much expected, every imaginable policing organization was scouring both the sky and the ground for anything out of the ordinary. The police did, in fact, show up to watch. But Tunick just concentrated on the mantra he always writes on his hand before working: "Calm, Focus, Tight." And in the end, he says the police ended up impressed by the fact that he'd gotten 100 women to take off their clothes and hold up large mirrors in protest of the convention.
"I was worried at the end that they'd start asking me questions, but they were chill," Tunick told VICE. "They were obviously not Trump fans."
Tunick started planning "Everything She Says Means Everything" back in 2013––long before Donald Trump was even a potential candidate, never mind the presumptive Republican nominee. Although he says that the work was pegged to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, among other things, and that he "assumed anyone who ran would be a nut job," he adds that his work has taken on more meaning given how the race has panned out.
Video by Gabby O'Neill
Some critics dismiss Tunick's work as unchallenging––it's not hard to get people to pay attention to art when it's picture of naked ladies. One Slate writer, questioning why Tunick doesn't get respect that's commensurate to his popularity, described his ouevre as "transgression for transgression's sake." Others have questioned the idea of a man making his fame off of women's naked bodies, which is a narrative as old as art itself.
But he also definitely has a fervent following, as evinced by the scene that immediately followed his RNC shoot and all those willing to help him. At around 9:30 AM on Sunday, about half a dozen web developers, photographers, videographers, and ad-hoc publicists who live as far away as Los Angeles and Mexico, were in collaboration to get the artists's new images out. The group––which mainly consisted of women who believed that Tunick's art was empowering––debated which images to include in a press blast, and whether they should use any with visible signage that might distract from the art.
"No one's looking at a casino when there are 100 beautiful women in front of it," Tunick interjected with a laugh.
Kristin Bowler was one of the people helping the selection process. She's from Akron, Ohio, but first met Tunick around 1995 when she had just graduated from art school and was walking back to work in Manhattan. Back then, Tunick was doing single-person shoots and recruiting models in person or through flyers. He handed her one and asked if she would pose naked on the street surrounded by a ring of bagels.
"It took a while," she remembers. "It was like, 'Does he want to date me?' 'Does he want to take my pictures?' 'What does this mean?'"
But her skepticism quickly vanished once she saw his other work. Fast forward 20 years, and Bowler is what she calls Tunick's "collaborator and muse," as well as his partner. He's quick to note that she helped craft the artist statement for his latest piece.
Although Tunick's work hasn't really been political in the past, this is an obvious exception. It was a passion project he funded himself, because he said that no museum would touch it. And besides being expensive, it was arguably a dangerous one to undertake. Protestors aren't allowed very close to actual arena the RNC will be held in––a fact that led to a lawsuit by the ACLU. In court, the civil rights group argued that the city was keeping people with something to say out of the sight of the delegates.
Subverting that is Tunick's work, which took place right by the arena and will definitely draw a lot of eyeballs.
"More than 1,800 women signed up to pose, and that's a testament to how they're brave art warriors," he says. "They were willing to go into the mix of the high-pressure danger zone and get naked. It's really unbelievable."
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