Hundreds strip off in Melbourne for controversial mass nude photos
Around 500 people braved the Australian winter to pose for a series of controversial nude photographs on top of a Melbourne parking lot.
The photo shoot, which was organized by American artist Spencer Tunick, took place this morning in temperatures of approximately 48 degrees Fahrenheit. It comes just weeks after supermarket chain Woolworths reversed its decision to ban the event from its premises.
Woolworths had initially denied access to its branch in Melbourne's Prahran neighborhood, citing inconvenience to weekend shoppers. But following public outcry and a high-profile petition, the supermarket last month agreed to host the shoot on condition that it was rescheduled for a quieter Monday timeslot.
A Woolworths spokesperson said that the retailer was "very supportive of the Provocaré Festival of the Arts and the Chapel Street community in which we operate," attributing the U-turn to festival organizers' flexibility regarding the timing of the shoot.
Speaking to CNN ahead of today's photo shoot, Tunick praised the decision.
"It's very rare for a corporation... to be part of something where the body is nude -- it's almost impossible," he said in a phone interview. "So it's very brave moment for something like this to happen, when (other) corporations are restricting the body and freedom."
Tunick has made his name coordinating more than 120 large-scale nude photos in public spaces around the world, from Munich to Mexico City. The latter attracted a reported 18,000 naked participants. The artist said that being naked in public can "be considered free speech."
"People want a sense of freedom when it comes to their bodies and public space -- that governments ... and corporations don't own your body," he added.
This morning's gathering was one of four Melbourne photo shoots organized by Tunick for the city's Provocaré arts festival. Known collectively as "Return of the Nude," the art project saw another 500 naked participants photographed in six shades of body paint at a separate Melbourne location Sunday morning.
Tunick said that more than 12,000 people applied to take part in the project, with more than 920 selected for the final shots. For Michael Boland, a 35-year-old banker who flew from Sydney to Melbourne specifically for the shoot, participating was about overcoming inhibitions.
"You think of the fear of it, then you've just got to do it," he said in a phone interview. "I think we're all slightly body conscious, but when you put it in front of 500 people, it changes.
"I'm glad that the backlash made (Woolworths) reconsider," he added. "We have to be more open as a society. We can't think of the fear that people being naked on top of a roof is going to cause consternation, when in reality it's an expression of freedom."
Thirty-four-year-old lawyer Rhiannon Reid joined Sunday's shoot having first posed for Tunick 17 years ago. She was one of 4,500 naked people captured by the artist on the banks of the Yarra River in 2001.
"Last time it was on a bit of a whim (and) as a bit of fun," she said, about her decision to participate in a phone interview. "But this time it was more a thought-out thing about wanting to contribute to the art world.
"It's quite liberating, in a way, to be standing there in a pack full of naked people. It's just a great leveler -- a great equalizer."
Tunick began orchestrating mass nude photos in the early 1990s. Some of his more unusual installations have seen him coordinate shoots in the Nevada desert and the Dead Sea. He is currently seeking participants for an upcoming shoot above the Arctic Circle in Norway.
Yet in Tunick's native US, his work has proven especially controversial. The artist has been arrested on multiple occasions, and was the subject of a high-profile clash between the US Supreme Court and former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who disputed his right to stage nudes in the city.
In 2016, the artist directed 100 women to pose naked just across from the site of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, in what was widely seen as a protest against the party's nomination of Donald Trump as its presidential candidate.
"In most states in the United States, it's illegal to be nude in public space -- even for art," he said. "So to have this wonderful window to be treated and respected as an artist working with the nude form in Melbourne really lifts up my spirits. It helps me continue to make my work, because it's difficult to work in the US."
Despite legal difficulties, Tunick believes that attitudes toward nudity are liberalizing around the world. He credits the growth of Instagram as a contributing factor.la
"Nudity is part of our dialogue now -- it's not so taboo," he added. "I think that's a great thing, but at the same time, it (can still be) dangerous to be nude in public because of laws against the body in public -- for art and for nudity."