The conditions in which I create my work are tense, crazed, and unpredictable.
— SPENCER TUNICK
photography b/ dave hogerty
story by t.m. shine
Running short on time and money, photographer Spencer Tunick’s plan was to shoot “Florida,” for his Naked States Tour Exhibit, in Pensacola, the quickest and least expensive way to fill America’s 27th State. (Florida/March 3, 1845)
That was the plan, until a young theater student in Orlando convinced him to meet her on The Space Coast, and take the picture that wound up being one of Spencer’s favorites of the 50 made in his and Krissy’s two-month photographic expedition.
Titusville, Florida (November 19, 1997) — It’s the clash of the countdowns. Three minutes to liftoff and NASA is doing a final check on the status of Columbia’s liquid hydrogen. Simultaneously, straight across from the Cape on a rickety, wooden dock, Spencer is nervously checking one more time with Missy.
“Are you wearing underwear?”
Her takeoff will have to beat NASA’s by about a minute if he’s going to get the shot he envisions.
Artist-photographer Spencer Tunick is on the last leg of the Naked States Tour. He’s already been to 41 states, traveling and often sleeping in a 1984 GMC Jimmy van with his girlfriend, Krissy Bowler. As he makes his trek, his work has been getting attention from the likes of The Washington Post and Boston Herald. You might have caught him in an MTV Art Spot or a CNN profile (“I saw myself on CNN. That was cool,” Spencer says). He’s the guy who, for his art, gets people naked in public.
Sometimes, he only has the seconds between the stop and go of a traffic light as he did in Manhattan when he lined the middle of a busy street with nudes
“That was part of the Naked Pavement Series,” he says.
Usually the speed of his art depends on where the cops are. In the big cities, he prowls around in the predawn hours scouting out locations, deciding where he wants to place his models and then sets it into motion in a flash to avoid confrontation.
Today, the plan is a single nude in the foreground of a rising space shuttle.
His model is Missy, a Florida girl he met on the way to a Phish concert in Maine, where he choreographed a shoot of 1,200 nudes (to be part of his 100-Plus Naked Series). His window of opportunity is shorter than NASA’s — 20 seconds, tops — and then the shuttle will only be a vertical white line on the horizon.
The location, chosen by Missy, is ideal — a lengthy pier across the street from a private home in an old, usually quiet, waterfront neighborhood just east of U.S.1, on the Indian River (Intracoastal Waterway).
Because it’s a scheduled launch day, a number of tourists have joined the locals, strolling around, lapping vanilla cones, and staking out their own spot along the water’s edge, but no one seems overly curious about what Spencer is up to.
A chilly wind is whipping across the dock and Missy is still clothed in a flowing spring dress, the type one might wear to a Phish concert. Presently on her knees, Spencer has her alternately cradling her hands and pointing to the heavens, still trying to sculpt her into the perfect pose. In his baggy clothes, pants weighed down with equipment, Spencer looks more like a plumber than an artist, only he’s got a light meter in his back pocket instead of a monkey wrench.
As he paces, he pulls a cellular phone from his pocket to talk to his project manager in New York City who has some important news. Some German guy they met in Vegas, who’s now in Fort Lauderdale, wants to pose nude for one of their photographs. Wants to know if they’re heading his way.
“Germans love us,” Krissy says. They need people to love them.”
This trip, which began July 4, was financed by pre-selling some of the black-and-white portraits that will come from this American journey. They put together $25,000 and hit the road with a tight budget.
“Do you remember if he was heavy?” Spencer asks Krissy about the German guy.
“No, he wasn’t,” Krissy says.
“Ohhh.” Spencer says. He’s disappointed. For art’s sake, he prefers his subject to be out of shape, and ordinary. He likes 300 pounders. Missy, a lith and energetic bug-eyed blonde, isn’t his ideal, but she asked to be photographed, and she knew of this uniquely Florida location.
On the top of the embankment, above the dock, the doors of Missy’s Honda Civic are open, radio blasting, so they can hear the countdown on the local news, but right now, “Alone Again, Naturally” is stuttering in the breeze.
T-MINUS TWO MINUTES
NASA is announcing all is go. In the final seconds, they probably have fewer adjustments to make than Spencer, who’s going through his final checklist:
• No Underwear (check)
• Phish dress comes off quickly (check)
• When she disrobes, Missy is to toss her dress to Spencer and he’ll stuff it down his shirt (check)
• Film in Camera (check)
• Missy prepared to freeze her ass off (check)
The radio is muffled in the wind. Spencer is yelling down the dock.
“Two minutes! Is that what the radio said, ‘two minutes’?”
That’s what they said, but now it’s closer to one minute.
Spencer gives the command.Missy’s Naked.
Spencer stuffs the dress into his (cargo) pant’s pocket instead of his shirt, but otherwise everything is going according to plan.
Everything is in place for a glorious event. All his schooling at the International Center of Photography in New York is about to pay off.
“I create memories that they will hold with them forever,” is the heart of Spencer’s creed and today will be no exception.
Nothing can stop …
At that moment, a police officer walks up, stops, folds his arms in front of himself, and looks down the dock toward Spencer and Missy.
Spencer, now concentrating on the photograph, is oblivious to his presence.
Missy is in a yoga crouch, a ball of flesh, small in a still, pastoral, East Coast Florida scene.
She’s naked, but no erogenous zones are in sight.
The police officer isn’t moving, maybe waiting for her to expose herself fully.
TIME IS NOW. Missy blossoms. She points skyward as the countdown blares from the radio.
10 … 9 … 8 … 7 …
A series of still photographs taken of photographer Spencer Tunick taking the photograph (with a shuttle launch in the background) that eventually became “Florida” in his Naked States Tour.
b/ LENNY KRAVITZ
November 19, 1997 — Writer T.M. Shine and I met Spencer Tunick, his girlfriend Krissy, and model Melissa at an apartment complex in a neighborhood near the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando. From there we drove to SR50 and followed them over to the coast. There, on Riverside Drive in Titusville, we came to an old wooden dock and boathouse that ran out into the Indian River (Intracoastal Waterway). Across the river, the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB) and the Complex #39 launch pads and stand on the horizon.
This is the spot Melissa had told Spencer would be a picturesque scene, nice to fulfill his need for a Florida photograph to complete his 50 photographs making his “Naked States” Tour, a show in a New York City art gallery.
ONE HOUR EARLIER
“I don’t think I do this without eating something,” Spencer says.
The artist wants Chinese. While Spencer is helping himself to the buffet, Krissy mentions that he gets a little edgy before shoots. “Afterwards, he goes through red lights,” she says.
She had to calm him down when they were shooting the 50-foot tall praying hands at Oral Roberts University.
“Three police officers were directly on the other side of the sculpture, and it got very tense,” Krissy said. “ But the hands were so big, they never saw us,”
Spencer has yet to see any of his completed work from the Naked States series, which includes everything from nudes with volcanoes in Hawaii to nudes on the Vegas Strip. After they finish a shoot they send the film directly up to New York.
“I just hope I get it in focus,” Spencer says as he comes back to the table.
The subject quickly turns back to underwear.
“Are you wearing any, Missy?”
No, she’s not, she tells him for about the third time today.
“Do you have any tan lines?”
Tan lines, tattoos and contemporary hairstyles are no-nos in his craft since they can date the work that he hopes will be timeless.
“How fast can you get that dress off, Missy?”
“Fast,” Missy answers confidently.
“Good, I’m gonna get more lo mein,” Spencer says.
Spencer is always leery of how his work is construed. He doesn’t want his art overwhelmed by the whold naked thing. His mother is an artist and he has always been intrigued by the naked form, and how it can be sculpted into its environment. He abhors pornography.
“I turned down $10,000 from German Playboy when they wanted to publish some of my work.” he says.
He doesn’t want to be associated with selling sex. That’s why he goes out of his way to find ordinary people as his subjects.
“In the real world, when you walk into a room, it’s not Melrose Place. People don’t look like that,” he says.
So, how does he get regular, everyday Joes to strip for him?
Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard.
In Alaska, two of the first people he met at the rent-a-car counter volunteered to be models.
“I always carry examples of my work so people know I’m serious and most appreciate what I’m doing,”.
In Fargo, the show and tell didn’t go over so well.
“It was like they were afraid of me. They’d just look at me and not even respond.”
For larger shoots, their Web site is crucial in recruiting models. They’re currently trying to get “as many as we can” to sign up for a shoot in front of Washington, D.C., in the spring, which will be the grand finale of the Naked States Tour.
Making that finale is still a challenge since their budget is crumbling, and they’re taking it day by day. They can’t pay their models, but they offered signed prints instead.
“When we first started, we bought them breakfast, but then we couldn’t afford it anymore,” Krissy says.
Actually the models end up carrying them half the time. In this case, Melissa “Missy” Perry, a 23-year-old theater student at the University of Central Florida, is letting them crash at her apartment.
When they met at the Phish concert, Missy overslept the morning Spencer orchestrated the 1,200 nudes with a megaphone, but she let them know if they were ever in Florida …
Oooh, fortune cookies. Everybody grabs one.
MISSY reads: SERIOUS TROUBLE WILL PASS YOU BY TODAY.
SPENCER reads: BIRDS ARE ENTANGLED BY THEIR FEET, MEN BY THEIR TONGUES.
Well … He’s an artist. He’ll work with it.
KING KONG AND BAGELS
To ease the suspense, here’s the rest of the necessary information you need to know about 30-year-old Spencer.
He wears a bear necklace because he likes salmon.
When he finally got his girlfriend Krissy to pose nude for him, he decided he wanted her to lie down beside a fallen “No Walking” sign in New York City, but it turned out to be in the meatpacking district, and they were turned off by all the people pushing meat around. On the way back, he saw a bunch of bagels lying in the street, so he got Krissy to pose nude with bagels.
He grew up in the Catskills where he worked at the Concord Hotel with his dad, photographing people for souvenir key chains. So many people out there might have an original Tunick and not even know it.
The best place to find people who will pose in the nude is at coffeehouses.
“The real ones … the ones with couches.”
Biggest turnoff on the tour: The huge pink elephant in Wisconsin.
In his travels, the only place he’s been overwhelmed by images is Las Vegas. He eventually settled on doing a nude wrapped around King Kong’s leg in front of Circus, Circus.
On the website he describes Krissy, who’s also keeping a journal and interpreting their trip through watercolors, as his girlfriend, earth goddess, moon child, risk taker, lover, and wild boar.
He and Krissy often sleep in their van (which isn’t really that much smaller than their New York City apartments) in public parking spots. When they want to sleep late, they get up and just put a quarter in the meter.
He has photographed his dad nude. “He insisted.”
He doesn’t like photography.
“I just don’t really.”
He liked Starship Troopers.
6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 …
The fumes are pluming, the flames are flying and Missy is grimacing in the chill, but she’s holding her pose nicely.
An ice cream truck is hovering behind the statuesque police officer, the driver probably, like most in our scene, frantically trying to decide what to focus on:
Space Shuttle / Naked Blonde / Space Shuttle, Space Shuttle / Naked Blonde, Naked Blonde
Space Shuttle / Naked Blonde, Naked Blonde / Wild Boar.
The rocket rises more slowly than Spencer had anticipated, and his 12-shot roll of 3 1/4” black-and-white film is spent in seconds.
He drops his camera to his side and steps back to watch the shuttle disappear into the sky.
“Nice Roll,” the radio reports, referring to Columbia’s 180-degree rotation as it speeds toward it’s orbiting Earth, and reaching its destination, the International Space Station, but for Spencer, Missy, and Krissy, they took it as a compliment for an excitingly successful shoot.
“Nice Roll!” Indeed.
Looking over, we see the cop, still standing sternly, but not saying a word.
Now that it’s over, everyone is still a little nervous, but taking a closer look at him. There’s something funny about his uniform, and where his gun is supposed to be, there is instead what looks to be a large pocket knife.
He’s a Fish and Wildlife officer.
Does he have any jurisdiction?
Is he in charge of riverside violations?
Was Missy’s (Trouble Will Pass You By Today) fortune, just a cheap cookie trick?
Finally, he uncrosses his arms, grins at Missy and says, “Well, I guess I picked the right spot to pull over and watch the launch.”
EXHILARATING — Melissa, Krissy, and Spencer were visibly excited after the successful launch and (photo) shoot. Spencer looking back admiringly at his “Florida” scene, now calm, with Columbia’s distinct after cloud hanging quietly in the sky, above the rickety dock where Melissa had posed minutes before.
Spencer is on a first-rocket high, and Cuban coffee. They’re fighting through the post-launch traffic. After a successful shoot, he and Krissy sometimes have sex, Krissy jokes, but today it was just coffee at the El Leoncito on Federal Highway, and a quest for more rocket shots — the town is full of old rockets, sitting in front of schools and city buildings.
There’s supposed to be a nice one at the VFW Hall in Rockledge, about 20 miles down the Space Coast, Whether it’s the coffee or the adrenaline from witnessing his first launch, but Spencer is wound up, and much more talkative than usual. He’s going as far as describing future shoots … waterfalls in North Carolina, monuments in D.C., two women embracing in front of the Citadel.
And then he goes silent. There it is, the rocket he had heard about,
“Are those Christmas lights on it?” he asks.
As the artist, and having just witnessed the real thing, he envisioned much bigger.
“If someone had told me it was a missile, not a rocket, I wouldn’t have bothered,” he says.
It looks like something you’d find at a fireworks stand in the Carolinas. Top shelf, for sure, but still a firework.
Spencer gets out, mainly just to snicker. He’s acting awfully cocky for someone who has photographed a naked woman in the hole of a giant doughnut, but his artistic sensibility is filing this Florida missile with Wisconsin’s pink elephant.
Not that he’d have the final say anyway.
Now the Shuttle Queen, Missy isn’t about to dance with this roadside projectile.
It is so beneath her now.
She crinkles her nose, pulls her clothes close, and says,
“I’m not getting naked for that.”
The “scene” Spencer looked back to see after having shot his “Florida” image, Melissa, nude, kneeling on the small dock leading to the old (Indian River) boat house, with the launch of the space shuttle Columbia as a backdrop. Columbia’s after cloud hangs quietly, like a signature, reminding those in the area of what just happened.
Spencer’s “Florida” (Naked States Tour)
PRETTY AS A PICTURE — It was what Spencer, Krissy, and Missy had been waiting so long for. After an uneventful crossing of paths at a Phish concert in Vermont and on a plane to Florida, the three had waited nearly a year, until circumstances brought them all together again. It was then that the space flight and photography stars aligned, and even Spencer, the “perfectionist,” was more than pleased with the day’s results. For NASA, a successful mission to the International Space Station, and for Spencer, one of the most dramatic images, near the end of his and Krissy’s year-long “NAKED STATES” Tour of America.