12:30am on 1st May i walk up to the Lowry Arts Center in Salford. A couple walk up behind me and we look around to see where to go. We walk around the side of the building and see that a queue is forming, so we walk to the rear, and are told by someone that we're roughly abut the 75th in line.
This was the start of several rather chilly hours!
We were all gathering for a Spencer Tunick photo installation commissioned by the Lowry to celebrate their 10th anniversary. People were arriving early as there were to be only 500 today, then another 500 tomorrow, so best to make sure we all got registered as some would be turned away.
It was a friendly atmosphere outside as people joined into small groups, four in our little group, and the time ticked by until eventually at around 3:15am they started the registration process.
We were all given a bag for our gear, slippers for the short walks involved later if we needed them, and a drink. There was just enough time to use the toilet before we formed a queue to go the waiting buses, a selection of coaches and double deckers. Then we were off!
Photos of Lowry paintings were passed around, and it was clear that the installations were inspired by Lowry, very fitting for the arts centre built in his name.
We pulled up in a small car park where Spencer had his open top bus. This was close the where the first three sites were. Spencer gave a talk about what he wanted, and how we were behave in the shoots. Basically we had to walk around until he said to stop, and also to lean forwards as the figures in Lowry's paintings were often leaning as they walked. He told of how he would be shouting at us, and it wasn't personal, he just had to be heard, and also get the job done. He thanked us all for coming along several times, then set off to the first location.
Within a few minutes we set off on foot. At this point everyone was still clothed, but the few people were starting to get a little apprehensive, but no one was backing out. We were led up a hill to the top of a small park. Again Spencer told us what he wanted, and that we should walk down the bank onto the park, then spread out. As he set off, it was time to undress. Being a life model for 19 years now, this didn't bother me, so i offered a few words of encouragement to those nearby who looked nervous. Then suddenly, there were 500 naked people running down a cold wet bank to the park, and boy did it feel cold at 6am! Just as an early train passed on the bridge just a hundred yards away.
Spencer barked his orders and shouted at us to halt! His assistants ran around moving people from time to time. "Don't look at me!" shouted Spencer. "If you're looking at me turn away!". "That man at the front, look away from me!!" "Can you separate those two people in the middle...yes, them. Move them apart! Thank you!". "More people under the trees! Please, move to the trees over there!" And so it went as he took his photos.
For all the randomness, he must have also been looking at the aesthetics of where people were, and how it would look better. I found that very interesting.
In a way it was funny seeing people trying to keep still for a few minutes. I saw them as others perhaps see me when i'm working.
After ten or fifteen minutes he was all done, and off we went back up the hill to our clothes. A young woman who got changed with her friends near me, and had been nervous, said that getting naked was the best way to meet new people. Suddenly she was loving the freedom, and feeling relaxed naked with others.
We were led back down the road and round a corner under the railway bridge. Spencer had set up under the next arch, so we all stripped again and walked over. At this point a tramp acme down the road with beer can in hand. His jaw gaped at all the flesh, and it looked like his eyes would pop out of their sockets. He regaled us with jokes, asked if we had any spare change, sand "Fat Bottomed Girls!". Of course, we were supposed to be keeping still, not smiling, and certainly not laughing. Again the shoot was fairly quickly over, so back to our clothes we went.
The women were told they could head back to the buses as Spencer wanted to do a shoot with just the men, though as it turned out, he wanted just one woman in the shot.. Right across the road was a building with a yellow wall. He wanted us to line up with the first row backs to the wall, then each row just a few feet apart until the last row was close up to him. Then he asked us to turn one line to the left, next to the right, and so on. He started shooting, and then asked us all to lean forwards from the waist. This brought a few giggles from some (most) of the men.
It has to be noted that as 250 naked men ran across the road at the start, the two police officers helping out had to stop a couple of cars. One driver was heard to say something about why was he being turned away, "look, there's loads of naked men, why aren't you doing something about them??" It must have been quite a shock!
Back on the buses we had the chance to warm up again. There were smiles on pretty much everyone's face as the excitement had got to them all. Just a few weeks before most of these people wouldn't have believed they'd be running about naked with hundreds of strangers, but here they all were, and they were all being imortalised for art!
The buses moved on, and after a while we arrived at the last location, Peel Park at the back of Salford University. At this site the press had been given information so they could come along. Some people felt a little uncomfortable seeing a few new cameras there, but maybe if they'd heard the young female photographer as she saw us all, even before we stripped off, saying it was really scary! I found that very amusing, but i guess she'd never been in a position to be confronted with 500 naked bodies before, and we were all very comfortable with it now!
Spencer came over and told us we were to strip off up here, then walk down a path and onto the park. He wanted us to spread out as much as we could, but not to block the flower beds. The time came, and off we went again. People walked and ran down the grassy bank, and laughed at the fun of running naked without a care in the world. Sadly that's a freedom we lose with our childhood. Perhaps it's a freedom we would be better off keeping..? The smiles and laughter would suggest so.
As we spread out Spencer called to us that we should jump up and down, and then run on the spot. Again people laughed, and it also i think gained a little heat from the exercise. Then we had to walk around until Spencer said to stop.
As was now usual, Spencer shouted to have some people moved around. Move forwards, move back, don't group together etc, and some individuals had to be moved too. Then we had to walk around until again he said stop! And he was shooting away again!
Spencer then asked us all to surround the flower beds. They were in circles so we all moved about to join a circle. Spencer could see the gaps and shouted his orders yet again. When he was happy he took his shots, then told us to all turn round. A minute later he said to walk forwards. This looks really good on the video on the news.
Now it was time for the men to leave...except one! This was to be the final shoot, and was to be with the women...plus one man!
We all headed back to the top of the park and biscuits.
After a while some of the women came back to applause. The others were still being photographed.
We all had to gradually make our way back to the buses. It wasn't too much after 8am. The experience was over all to quickly for most of us. Like me, i think many would have been happy to carry on all day.
For most people, it had been a wonderful opportunity to be involved in a work of art, to be able to feel free and uninhibited amongst hundreds of other people. We were young, old, short, tall, fat, thin! Just a very normal cross section of people, Everyday People doing something unusual.
For me as a life model, it was the chance to be part of a much larger work of art. In my job i'm the one on my own, naked in a room of people to be drawn, painted, sculptured, and, on occasions, photographed. To be just one of many, and to have no say in what was happening, was quite a good experience. To be anonymous and not the centre of attention made a very nice change....
I guess everybody will take something different from the experience. Perhaps the best is from a blog i read the other day by a young woman. In her earlier blogs she talks a lot about her eating disorder, there's even a video of an interview she did on TV about it. In her Everyday People blog she says about how comfortable she felt being naked amongst so many, and that for the first time she felt good about herself. If it helps her just a little bit, then what a great day it was.
Links to news stories and Spencer Tunick's website
Manchester Evening News