“In public space, the naked body is still explosive:” How photographer Spencer Tunick won and lost the fight to work on New York’s streets


  • Nausikaä El-Mecky Heidelberg University




Photography, Spencer Tunick


This article examines renowned yet controversial American photographer Spencer Tunick, whose work has led to numerous arrests, a high profile court-case and finally, success abroad. Spencer Tunick’s photographic works, which he calls installations, have brought him great renown, but his work was and continues to be hazardous, exposing the unstable rules about art and nudity in public space. Masses of naked bodies populate his works, standing up, lying down, painted blue, lifted up, holding hands, in public spaces all over the world. Tunick is not interested in sexualised imagery: the boundaries he wants to push against are political. Ironically, it was his high-profile court-case win in 2000 to photograph a group of nude persons outdoors in New York that led to increased censorship, and  –more fortuitously– to international success. Using archival records, interviews (by the author) with Tunick and reflections on the interactions between photography, the law, morality and public space, this article delves into the New York quality of Tunick’s work, which is both timelessly aesthetic and highly topical and political.


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