The Long Lens blog: Photography with added snaps

The photography site for sore eyes. With extra writing because I'm also a writer.

Five hundred nudes and one cock

Everyday People is Spencer Tunick’s latest art endeavour, commissioned by Salford’s The Lowry.*

The Lowry asked Tunick to merge his artistic style – photographing hundreds of nude people in public places – with LS Lowry’s own distinctive paintings.

The result was two days photography, beginning at 3.30am, 500 people each time, eight locations in total and dozens of images and film of people with no clothes on facing the camera, not facing the camera and bending over.

Impressed so far? 

Well, you’ll be even more impressed when I tell you I was there as a naked participant on day two. But there are one or two issues which need ironing out about the Spencer Tunick gig.

Firstly, making art is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Spencer’s emails about the event and the attendance of the nude people insinuated that if you didn’t arrive at The Lowry a considerable time earlier that the 3.30am registration opening time you would not make the crucial first 500. In the event on Sunday, May 2, less than 300 turned up. A lot of people spent a lot of time queuing in darkness for no reason.

Broken glass was not swept up at the Castlefield site prior to the naked invasion. At least one person required medical treatment after cutting his foot.

None of the New Yorker’s flyers detailing the plans for the Lowry installation reached participants on the buses as planned. Emails with similar details were also not sent out. Cue, an embarrassing exchange between him and his staff.

Then there were the bad journies. Several buses – including mine – were forced to take the long way round Manchester and perform a traffic-clogging reversal because their double-deckedness wouldn’t permit them to go under a low bridge.

But second, and perhaps more importantly, is Spencer’s attitude.

Rarely raising a smile, distant and disconnected, short of patience and stroppy. Was this a genius in action or a miserable git who struck lucky with a great idea?

He gruffly barked orders to his dozen staff at the four venues – Castlefield, The Lowry, Concorde at Manchester Airport (with no discernable link to Lowry) and the gas cooling tower near Sport City. Some of his minions didn’t like it, some answered back.

Best of all, he regularly megaphoned his 300-odd volunteers curt message to hurry with impressive impatience. This included a laughable dictum to hurry up despite us being shuffled around by right-hand man John and his staff on an acutely painful imitation cut-glass gravel surface. It was 10am on the final shoot of the morning. No-one was in the mood for his mannerless manner by now.

‘Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me!’ he catchphrased repeatedly. It was as if someone was slowly twisting his testicles as he manically shouted. It was us whose googlies were being gripped by the frozen claws of a Manchester gale.

Brutally, a man labelled ‘too tanned’ was ushered out of shot after John was told ‘Get him to the back, get him away.’

‘Stop smiling. Stop smiling!’ he bellowed just as frequently. I’m very appreciative of work Spencer Tunick does and of the pressure he must have been under. But it was impossible to warm to him as he displayed deficiencies in both emotional intelligence and communication. He dismissed requests to be photographed by participants with contempt.

While standing on the balcony inside The Lowry at 6.37am to inform us what would happen for that particular shoot, Spencer slipped mid-sentence into a vacant stare across to foyer. It was a seminal moment as 300 faces stared attentively upwards waiting patiently for the rest of his sentence. It never came. He wandered off.

By the time he was halfway through a bonus set of images at 10.30am, consisting of every women from the shoot pressing their naked bodies against the windows of two double-decker buses, the male contingent had grown cynical. ‘Don’t look at me’, shouted one bystander as others laughed as Spencer meticulously arranged bodies by banging on windows and shouting down his megaphone.

There’s little remarkable about Spencer and his ill-fitting saggy jeans or his tiny medium-format Pentax camera. But the effort he puts into his installations and the images he produces from them are remarkable. When I saw the images he did around Newcastle I was blown away. I wished I was in them. Now I am.

I love the fact I took part in such a major piece of art creation. It was great to snapped rather than be the snapper. The pain – of getting up at 2am and from the biting cold – is long gone. And I would do it again, it’s great to feel part of such a unique art event. But why did I not feel liberated?

I drove home after eight hours in Manchester feeling a little lacking in something. Perhaps missing was the spark of excitement I should have got from standing next to 300 naked bodies.

Or perhaps what was lacking was a sliver of warmth and charm from Spencer himself, something to give the event a subtle twist of great. Sadly, the only twisting came not from the 300 freezing bodies but from the man himself.

PICTURED: Spencer Tunick himself at the Sport City car park. No artists were harmed in the taking of this image.

* Salford is near, but not in, Manchester

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12 comments on “Five hundred nudes and one cock

  1. FeatureAnnouncement
    May 4, 2010

    You must've been quite close to me then (I was the one who said it was 6.37). Yep, mostly fair comments, except 'one person required medical attention' – the St John's Ambulance guy told me it was only a plaster. And I'm grateful that Spencer only had us all naked for 10 minutes max, as opposed to around 3 hours when he went up to Newcastle 5 years ago (so I'm told). Also, he did come over and mingle with the crowd after the Lowry installation – maybe he felt bad for cocking up his speech so badly! I imagine Spencer adopts this 'gruff' attitude when shooting, as he's used to less than co-operative crowds. In Chile, the models thought they were there to have a big naked party, and the producer said his worst bunch ever hailed from New Jersey – practically Spencer's own stomping ground. I think us Brits must make excellent models, so his gruffness isn't really needed but he does it anyway.

  2. Tim
    May 4, 2010

    I'm sorry your post starts with such a negative rant. It totally fails to convey the spirit of fun and camaraderie that I felt. The hour of queueing flew by, chatting to other participants. Confused bus rides were all part of the adventure and I thought the staff were all really nice, helpful and friendly given that it's a slightly crazy thing to be trying to organise.Spencer was a lot more friendly (if no more organised – but I guess he hadn't had much sleep!) at the evening do in the Northern Quarter.I think your post may have got more positive, but I had kind of given up by half way.

  3. Seren Wade
    May 4, 2010

    I thought the whole thing was a lot more positive than perhaps you are portraying but I guess that's how you experienced it.Spencer probably needed the 'gruff' attitude really – he could have tried to be more friendly but then maybe everything would have taken so much longer.I just thought the whole thing was huge fun, a unique experience, met some wonderful people – most difficult thing about it all – not smiling ….

  4. wintersong
    May 5, 2010

    Stiff-upper-lipped Brits – always so stoical. Gratefully supporting a miserable, grumpy artist who is set to make a packet from a whole range of naked packets, willingly exposed for rapid exploitation. What was their reasons for doing it? For some perhaps their love of art, others their love of themselves, others to do something extra-ordinary, or maybe for their moment of fame? Each to their own, I'd say. But I'd also say that Tunick should have been a little more grateful. It's not often that gazcook gets out of bed for nothing.

  5. Tim
    May 5, 2010

    @Anna (wintersong), please be assured that I'm not just trying to trying to “make the best of it” here; I actively *really enjoyed* the experience and would certainly do it again. No stiff upper lip or stoicism required.I think in pretty much every account I've read everyone else has said similar (and certainly not just brits).If Spencer does well out of it too then everyone's a winner (a rarity). Everyone was clear on the arrangement in advance, no-one was short-changed, there's no bitterness. So where's the problem? As a wordsmith, perhaps you might buy a dictionary, look up “exploitation”, and be a little less judgemental. 🙂

  6. wintersong
    May 6, 2010

    For Tim's information.The term “exploitation” may carry two distinct meanings:1. The act of using something for any purpose.2. The act of using something in an unjust or cruel manner. I suppose, like experiences of Tunick, it is all about interpretation.It is great that Tim and others enjoyed their day. Just can't see how it's ever acceptable for Tunick to be rude to the people who are kindly standing in the buff on shards of glass, at first light, to help to progress his career.Oh well, perhaps we can chat more at the opening in June. I'd certainly be up for sharing dictionary definitions for 'judgmental'.

  7. Tim
    May 6, 2010

    @wintersong – I did look the e-word up before my previous comment, but I didn't feel used either way, and I felt the context pointed to definition 2. :)Not that I need to defend Mr Tunick, but I'm guessing that having months of preparation followed by a few minutes of shooting to get the pictures you need (for the sake of the commission and your continuing career) is pretty high pressure. As I say, he seemed very friendly at the evening do. Anyway, I would be more than happy to discourse further at the opening.@Garry – excuse me using your blog to be so critical – I'll try to stop now!

  8. INTERIOR DESIGN / PROPERTY BLOG
    May 6, 2010

    facieWell, I don't know about Spencer being a bit of a miserable git, but it takes one to know one eh Garry? ;-)If I had been the photographer rather than the subject maybe I'd have been barking orders too, to try and get the shots done quickly in that biting wind. Granted his bedside manner isn't so hot but I guess he's not out to win any awards for his personality. Does it matter that he didn't try to be 'our friend'? I'm rather glad he didn't and that his personality leant more towards grumpy artist than cheesy wedding snapper 🙂

  9. FeatureAnnouncement
    May 7, 2010

    I didn't think Spencer was rude at all. Gruff and curt, yes, but he never had a go at us. I don't think Garry's post made him sound 'rude' either. Besides, he could very well have been a total arse about it all – getting every person into exactly the right position, taking forever to shoot, sending everyone with tattoos to the very back, insisting on an even spread of ages and sexes in each composition – he didn't do any of those things, thank God!Anyway, kudos to Garry for writing an alternative perspective on the morning, as opposed to every other blog on the web so far. You've remembered a lot of stuff I'd forgotten, and not seen mentioned anywhere else, and it's refreshing to know that not everyone got a cathartic spiritual experience from the day after all! You should try sending it to http://thespencertunickexperience.org and see if it goes up, as everything else up there is wildly positive.

  10. Alice
    May 17, 2010

    a man labelled ‘too tanned’?I'm guessing this was a white man – were there no black or Asian people taking part?! In Manchester? Ew.

  11. Peter Rivendell
    May 24, 2010

    I agree that Mr Tunick is almost comical in his impatience to get a result despite the discomfort and difficulty of being naked at stupid o'clock on a cold morning while trying to interpret almost incomprensible instructions but – I took part on the Saturday and the experience was everything I hoped for and more. I did feel liberated. I still feel different about my naked body. I got a huge amount from the experience and the people that I met on the day. That's the weird thing about Spencer Tunick. There is a value to the personal experience of taking part that is entirely separate from the art being created. I can't wait to see the pictures. Especially after appearing full frontal in The Guardian…

  12. francis
    May 27, 2010

    i agree with a few comments spencer was a grumpy sod ,but i suppose it all in the name of art .he has to be lets say be asertive to get things done .what i ask myself is would i get naked again with 300 strangers on a cold sunday mornin the answer is yeah. why not

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