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My art involves creating beautiful food that tastes delicious as well as looking great, so one day recently I was in a client’s kitchen occupying myself doing just that. As usual I had the radio on as a background and was pottering around getting lunch ready, when I heard the DJ announce something that made me stop in my tracks and take notice. I didn’t hear all he said, but the mention of volunteers for an upcoming nude photo shoot in Selfridges on Oxford Street involving 500 uninhibited people was enough information for me to guess the identity of the man behind this event. Spencer Tunick - the American artist who has created nude landscapes all over the World.
This news item rattled around my head all day so when I got home, I went straight online and pointed my browser to the Selfridges site to find out more. Deciding I should get in there while I could, I immediately signed up to pose before ringing around my sister and a few friends to try and get someone to come with me with no luck.
To be honest at this stage I was excited but nervous and unsure if I would be able to go through with posing, until one day when I was walking home from a particularly good meal out with my sister. Looking at the billboards with headlines about the war in Iraq and the people there I had an idea. I would get my shy friends and family to sponsor me to attend the shoot and donate any money I raised to the Red Cross. After producing a sponsorship form and approaching everyone I knew there was no going back. I’d shot my mouth off and now I was in this up to my neck. I was in the shit and there was no way out. I had to do it, but the great thing was that my supportive friends and family were all right behind me, the thought of the £100 or more I would raise made anything else including my inhibitions seem unimportant.
The next couple of weeks passed all too quickly and I thought and talked of nothing else. I can tell you that the thought of doing something like this will put you off binge eating, so I managed to pass Easter weekend easily without stuffing myself stupid with sweets and chocolates. A body wrap in a beauty salon crossed my mind as I have heard good things about them and the instant loss of inches and cellulite that results. However the cost of this treatment is about £40-£50 so I felt if I had the kind of money to spend on an indulgence like that, it should be going to the Red Cross. Finally as Sunday 27th April approached I began making a few last minute preparations which involved shaving, plucking and dyeing hair on various parts of my body. Then on the Saturday night I went to bed very early as I knew realistically I needed to get up at 6am to allow time to titivate myself to get down to Selfridges on time. After sleeping surprisingly well, a quick bath and blow-drying of my hair with a bit of lippy made me feel ready to face whatever was coming to me, and I was out of the door within an hour.
I was surprised to find the number 29 bus so full that I had to stand all the way to Tottenham Court Road. I spent my time surreptitiously checking out my fellow passengers wondering if they were going to the same place as me. As none of them seemed to lack jewellery or be wearing loose clothing as requested of volunteers for the photo shoot, I concluded that these were sane people probably off to work.
Walking down Oxford Street there were so few people around that between thinking it felt odd to be going out without a bra on, I wondered if there would be anyone else but me at this event and started to worry. But as I approached Selfridges a reassuring sight welcomed me, a big queue to the side entrance on Duke Street, the place we had been told to meet up. Joining it presented me with an extraordinary coincidence, a man working at the office of my agency was directly in front of me. I had in fact been in there the week before to get the staff to sponsor me to pose, and he had been so interested that he promptly accessed the Selfridges web site and signed up.
After a happy time chatting with him and other people in the queue, and ribbing the journalists who were wandering up and down the queue taking photographs, the point of no return finally arrived as we were allowed in. I was so committed by this time that I had a brief moment of panic when I passed a sign saying that a maximum of 500 people would be allowed in to pose. After a quick headcount of those in front I realised that getting up early had been worthwhile – in a few minutes I was proved right when I was asked for the consent form which I had been asked to sign earlier. This basically said that any photographs taken could be sold and used by Spencer Tunick and Selfridges, and that if I injured myself in there I couldn’t sue anyone!
We were then sat down on the floor in rows, which was nice as it allowed us to meet some more of our fellow volunteers, and hear what was likely to happen from old hands who had done it all before at previous installations. Most important was the fact that we would know where to come and find our clothes once we were finished for the day. Finally Mr Tunick arrived and explained what he had planned for the morning and after a bit of joking around and teasing from him and his team, his final words were something like “Now get your kits off”.
Once I had undressed and put my clothes in the plastic bag with a sheet of paper with my name on which we had all been thoughtfully provided with, we got on with it. First up was the make-up department where we were asked to browse around as if we were shopping. At this point I glanced to the store doors onto Oxford Street to see some astonished people who had happened to look in, and I think the looks on their faces will stay with me all my life. We were then told to drop to the floor where we stood and lie down for a photograph before being asked to stand up again. I briefly occupied myself by trying out perfumes with the naked man next to me, before some more pictures were taken. Then we were told to go on the escalators three to a step for the next shot, the only uncomfortable time for me. It wasn’t the hard ridges on the steps or even the fact the escalator I was on accidentally started moving… and those of us at the bottom nearly cascaded off and hurt ourselves. It was just that… we were asked to lean over so that our faces were nearly down to the back of the person in front. The feel of the very long hair of the man behind me tickling on my lower back made me cringe inwardly, although he in no way did it deliberately. It was too intimate… and a barrier that I didn’t like being crossed.
However that part of it was over very quickly and it was onwards and upwards for the ladies to the third floor to the lingerie department for the next shoot. I think the sight of looking up the open stairwell and seeing so many naked women above climbing the escalator was something I will never, ever forget. It was surreal and appreciated by everyone especially the cheering men who were left behind on the ground floor looking up at us!
Once we had arrived we waited for a few minutes for Mr Tunick to join us and decide how he wanted us. Once he turned up he started by lining some women up against a counter before asking them to squeeze together thus making a gap in the middle, big enough for another person. He then turned round looked around the rest of us before saying to me, “You go in there” and touched my arm to direct me in the space. I was shocked for a moment then reassured as women were lined up in front of me in rows. I am pretty tall and I thanked my parents’ genes for this passport to a place at the back of the shot where not much of me could be seen. The women in the front rows were then asked to kneel then fall sideways to the ground all over one another. Any women left were asked to fill in behind the counter, but this didn’t help me, as I was standing up butt naked with nowhere to hide in direct centre of the set in front of the camera.
To be honest I jest, I didn’t mind at all. There is nothing like taking your clothes off and walking around a department store naked with total strangers to make you lose your inhibitions. It felt so free and the experience was thrilling, I will never forget it ever – it was unbeatable! I am not exactly the slimmest of women but I don’t think anyone was checking each other out, all our naked flesh seemed to blend. Old people, young people, fat people, thin people, all with their different skin tones formed a wonderful, beautiful kind of mosaic in the different installations. And in case anyone is wondering; I certainly didn’t find all those naked bodies turned me on in the slightest, and I sincerely believe that Spencer Tunick and his team don’t get off on this sexually either. When I told people what I was going to do they made a lot of wrong assumptions and lewd remarks – but sex or pornography is not what this event was about. I felt completely safe and not threatened in the slightest as Mr Tunick and his team, whilst having a great sense of fun treated all men and women with respect at all times whilst we were naked.
The event certainly seemed to fascinate the media some of whom had managed to get in by the time I returned to the ground floor. Whilst I watched the men disporting themselves on the counters for the final installation, one journalist was interviewing and filming a very bold lady in the buff who didn’t seem to mind at all. By this time we were past being embarrassed or shy and I suddenly realised that I was standing with just my knickers on watching the men when I could have been dressed and fled the store minutes before.
Finally realising that I would have to return to normality and put my clothes on, I did so and went upstairs for a coffee with a woman I had been talking to. Spencer Tunick arrived in the café a few minutes later and walked around chatting and thanking people for coming. To me his appreciation of the fact he could not create his art without us; with the courtesy he showed by coming up to try and thank as many people as he could in person, made the whole thing worthwhile to me.
So would I do it again? The one word answer to that question is YES! At this time the next installation is Barcelona on June 8th 2003. I am wondering whether to take a cheap flight out and go! It will be so great and fantastic – I can promise you that. So does anyone want to come with me?
Finally I want to dedicate this article to my family and friends. Without their love, support and pride in me I could not have done what I did today.
wow well done, it was a fantastic review! I would never pluck up the confidence to do that, having a photo fully clothed is bad enough!I loved the raising money idea, more people should be aware of that nowadays. nice one xxx
Belle 23.02.2004 15:02
Wow! Good for you, I cetainly couldn't have worked up the nerve to do it. Have an 'E' on the grounds of not only an exceptional piece of writing, but also the fact that you created an opportunity to raise money for a very worthwhile cause, not somehting just anybody would do. K xxx
Cazz 11.06.2003 18:25
What an amazing thing to have done Jane in every sense, my hat's off to you (but I think I'm shy enough to keep the rest on!) It sounds like it was really liberating, and definitely something a bit different to have done with your day! Cazz xx