May 11, 2011, Updated September 12, 2012
Tunick press conference

Photo by Udo David Jansen

American art photographer Spencer Tunick is fully aware of the brewing controversy surrounding his project at the Dead Sea. But the photographer known around the world for taking pictures of large groups of nude figures at popular locations has no plans of not going through with the installation.

“It’s about promoting the body as an art form, not as a pornographic entity,” Tunick told Israeli media at a May 11 Tel Aviv press conference. “I know that the separation is sometimes difficult for people but there has to be separation.”

Take a look at the fundraising campaign for the project entitled, Naked Sea, and it’s obvious there are hundreds of supporters wanting to see this photo shoot happen. On the other hand, the religious political parties continue to voice their disapproval.

“I understand that he has an artistic task, but it’s interesting how any form of prostitution has become art. That’s the way it is lately,” Shas MK Nissim Zeev told Israel Television. “What kind of Jewish state are we talking about here? What kind of Jewish culture? What values? What, have we gone crazy? This is artistic bestializing.”

Asked to respond to these remarks, Tunick said: “For someone to think that the body is solely a pornographic entity when naked, then, that’s a sad world that we’re going in to. I think the opposite of nudity is someone totally clothed until you can’t see them anymore. I like a world where people are free to make art nude.”

Tunick needed $60,000 to fund the installation. Because he does not accept commercial sponsors, he turned to the internet to raise money from private individuals for the campaign. Though the going was slow at first, on May 15 his campaign surpassed the minimum goal and was nearing $70,000.

Tunick told Israel21c that reaching the monetary goal was paramount because he felt there was an important message in the work.

“Our bodies, which are so fragile, are causing this amazing, natural sea to disappear. We’re just flesh and skin but we can make massive environments of concrete and massive structures and at the same time we can cause nature to disappear,” he told Israel21c. “My work will be more connected to the human natural disaster at hand.”

Tunick’s project is the latest artistic promotion for the Dead Sea. The lowest point on earth is contending against 27 other natural sites around the world, and is considered to be one of the most promising contestants in the campaign to select the New7Wonders of Nature.

Tunick, who still photographs with film, wants to set up his photo shoot in September or October, before the voting for the New Seven Wonders of Nature comes to a close.

But why shoot in the nude?

“For me, nudity is an explosion of life. It’s a way for me to shout. To bring attention to the vulnerability of the human body juxtaposed to public space and also the spirit of the natural human body in a concrete world,” he said.

He noted that while the naked body has been “depicted in film, theater, on television, in magazines, naked in public is something quite different.”

Tunick isn’t sure how the final photo is going to look. He is still playing with ideas of having 500 people float in the Dead Sea, or get them to cake mud on their bodies, or a bit of both.

One thing he is certain of, is that opposed to other projects he’s done this one has a special place in his heart. “It’s special because it’s in Israel. I love the natural landscape here,” he said.

Tunick’s father lives here. As does his 95-year-old grandmother. He has numerous cousins here, too. According to Tunick, he has visited Israel more than 20 times and has always dreamed of creating a large-scale work here.

And though he says he’s “not a protest artist and not an environmental artist” but just “an artist, making a work,” he’s happy to indirectly lend his name to the Dead Sea campaign.

“The sadness of seeing the Dead Sea retreat and the fact that we could lose this body of water is quite a visual tragedy, but also an environmental tragedy and it’s manmade. It’s wonderful when I can make artwork and at the same time [give a voice to a group] shouting out to the world that something’s happening. It’s a great moment for me to make this work.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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