Attorney Elizabeth Schwartz tried to maintain a normal Monday morning routine. Too nervous to eat breakfast, she took time to carefully groom, aware that in several hours she would stand naked with hundreds.
Around noon, she removed her gauzy, black sundress and stood side by side on the second floor of a hotel balcony with about 10 other nude models.
Though “petrified,” the 35-year-old said that posing naked for international artist Spencer Tunick’s latest photograph with about 500 others on popular South Beach was an opportunity “to get over my body stuff.”
Posing naked, participants said, was more sweaty than sexy, more empowering than erotic.
Tunick, a sometimes controversial artist who has draped naked bodies in front of the United Nations and on glaciers, chose the Sagamore Hotel as the backdrop for his photograph, which he says is a commentary on excess.
“Obviously, it’s about the party, about having excess in leisure and about having escapism and fantasy,” Tunick said of the tropical party scene known for its lavish bashes and exotic night life. The photo will be displayed in the hotel’s contemporary art collection.
Tunick, who is shy and adheres to mostly black dress, prefers to be called an artist, not a photographer and refers to his work as installations.
He loves the landscape of the human body and playing with props to add “a bit of whimsy,” he said. In Belgium, he draped 80 women in dark liquid chocolate and 77 men in white liquid chocolate. He hopes to experiment with condiments and golf balls in future shoots.
On Monday, he used neon pink and green rafts and about 500 bottles of champagne, which he directed models to simultaneously shake and explode like a human fountain.
The 40-year-old photographer directs models from a bullhorn, reminding them to remove jewelry and glasses and relax their shoulders.
Models are often chosen at random after submitting their photographs (with clothes) to his Web site. For the South Beach shoot, Tunick personally sifted through the applicants, looking for subjects with enthusiasm, “not based on looks.”
Hundreds of models are always on standby, waiting to participate in one of his projects.
A photographer, pregnant mother and medical lab technologist were among the models Monday. Most were fit and beautiful, although a few were not as shapely. Only the thinner models were asked to pose in the pool with the rafts.
Models sat clothed for several hours in the balmy heat waiting and taking direction. They were photographed in groups on four levels of balconies overlooking a mazelike garden and around the hotel’s infinity pool. Most were only unclothed for about 30 minutes. A few maids stood on tables and craned their necks to get a better look, smiling discreetly.
Model Bianca Moura, 37, said the shoot was “a release from custom and convention.” Performance artist Susan Pfeffer, 31, didn’t wear makeup and Maya Sanchez, a 34-year-old general manager, said she didn’t even shave her legs.
Tunick said he has always loved the organic form of the human body, especially on the canvas of public spaces.
“Nudity is not controversial in museums,” he said. “Where the body becomes controversial in the U.S., is in public spaces.”
Early in his career, Tunick was arrested repeatedly and battled former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the right to photograph nudes on the street — a case he eventually won. He’s growing more immune to protesters who often show up at the shoots. About 400 protested in Chile, but a few thousand participated.
His work has garnered a cultlike following, a mix of hippie artists and conservative professionals.
Schwartz, the attorney who participated, said she did it “for art, for history” and came away with “a little more peace in accepting who I am and accepting the different shapes and looks here.”