Spencer Tunick is an American photographer best known for organizing large-scale nude shoots. Since 1994, he has photographed over 75 human installations around the world.
Spencer Tunick was born in Middletown, Orange County, New York into a Jewish family. His father Earl owned a keychain photo-viewer franchise in the Catskills. In 1986, he visited London, where he took photographs of a nude at a bus stop and of scores of nudes in Alleyn's School's Lower School Hall in Dulwich, Southwark. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Emerson College in 1988.
In 1992, Tunick began documenting live nudes in public locations in New York through video and photographs. His early works from this period focus more on a single nude individual or small groups of nudes. Tunick cites 1994, when he posed and photographed 28 nude people in front of the headquarters of the United Nations in midtown Manhattan, as a turning point in his career; "It all started there, moving my work from just photography into installation and performance photography,"
he says. Since then, he has organized and photographed over 65 temporary site-related installations in the United States and abroad.
Tunick's philosophy is that "individuals en masse, without their clothing, grouped together, metamorphose into a new shape. The bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance. These grouped masses which do not underscore sexuality become abstractions that challenge or reconfigure one's views of nudity and privacy."
Sometimes, after gathering his subjects together, Tunick grades them by gender, long hair, age or other characteristics. Registration for modeling on his website includes questions about skin tone. A color chart shows seven boxes ranging from stark white to baby-powder pink and dark chocolate. In his work, he plays off different flesh tones or groups people of the same color. Tunick is also interested in the juxtaposition between the organic and the mechanical, and often chooses famous buildings or unusual structures as his backdrop.
As of 2021, Tunick is the star of forthcoming pandemic documentary film Stay Apart Together
, directed by Nicole Vanden Broeck, in which Tunick reinvents his photography "to find a way to bring everyone together while staying apart"
. To mark International Women's Day on March 8, 2021, the twenty-fourth session of the Stay Apart Together
project saw Tunick and Vanden Broeck collaborate with Mexican-American visual artist Daniela Edburg to depict 75 Latin American women in 11 poses, incorporating the colors purple and green (symbols of the Latin American feminist movement) and hot pink, selected by Edburg for its liveliness.
Spencer Tunick has been documenting the live nude figure in public, with photography and video, since 1992. Since 1994, he has organized over 100 temporary site-related installations that encompass dozens, hundreds or thousands of volunteers, and his photographs are records of these events. In his early group works, the individuals en masse, without their clothing, grouped together, metamorphose into a new shape. The bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance. These group masses, which do not underscore sexuality, often become abstractions that challenge or reconfigure one's views of nudity and privacy. The work also refers to the complex issue of presenting art in permanent or temporary public spaces.
Spencer Tunick stages scenes in which the battle of nature against culture is played out against various backdrops, from civic center to desert sandstorm. In 2002 he started to work with standing positions for his group formations referencing traditional group portraiture. Now, for some installations, he adds objects that the participants are often holding or wearing and has included body paint. Spencer has and continues to make group installations/photographs elevating awareness of HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ rights, equality and climate change, among other issues.
Near the end of installations, for the final setups, he sometimes separates the participants into smaller groups to make additional assemblages: sometimes by sex, sometimes by age, or even by hair color. However, no one is ever excluded from an installation because of the color of their skin, ethnicity, gender identity, sex, race, religion, or political affiliation. If you can make it to an installation you can participate, unless of course there are space limitations.
Spencer could not make his art without the generosity of the participants. He is eternally grateful for their participation. He wishes he could credit everyone in his individual and group photographs but there are hundreds and thousands who have taken part collectively. In exchange for taking part, participants receive a limited edition print.
Spencer Tunick's temporary site-specific photographic installations have been commissioned by the XXV Biennial de Sao Paulo, Brazil (2002); Institut Cultura, Barcelona (2003); The Saatchi Gallery (2003); MOCA Cleveland (2004); Vienna Kunsthalle (2008) and MAMBO Museum of Modern Art, Bogota (2016), among others.