Spencer Tunick: Group Photography in the Time of Isolation


Spencer Tunick, Stay Apart Together, 2020


For many years, photographer Spencer Tunick has coordinated massive happenings. Hundreds or thousands of nude participants gather in striking public spaces and arrange themselves, under his direction, into orderly configurations, which respond to the space. As I’ve written here before [link: https://whitehotmagazine.com/articles/s-social-media-censorship-blues/4104], his work balances on a knife edge where a celebration of shared humanity opposes a reduction of the human animal to meat-like anonymity. 

What’s the man to do when an unholy mix of pandemic and public policy prevent public gatherings altogether?

Tunick is always stubborn and never less than inventive. So, like the rest of us, he has rolled over to video conferencing. He started by coordinating groups of volunteers to replicate simple nude poses in their homes. Under this new pictorial paradigm, the participants’ variety of shapes and colors and living spaces celebrates the shared humanity he always seeks. Conversely, he also evokes his uneasy reduction of humanity to meat. He uses the grid of the conferencing software to digitally recreate the crowd; each figure occupies too few pixels for true clarity. And he has his participants wear their facemasks, foregrounding the de-individualizing quality of this 2020 equivalent of taking your shoes off at the airport.

Stay Apart Together, Spencer Tunick, 2020

Tunick has a less well-known but equally dedicated history of shooting individuals and very small groups of people. He continues that project in the present conditions.

Mexico | France, Stay Apart Together, Spencer Tunick, 2020

In this second body of work, Tunick zeroes in on the pain of solitude at a much more personal level. He positions couples on either side of a wide frame, touching at the center of the composition. That center is the vertical line of the split screen – though the couples are pictorially together, they are physically separate, joined only through the massless medium of the videoconference.

California | South Carolina, Stay Apart Together, Spencer Tunick, 2020

To my eye, when he reduces his figures to a number, which maps to ordinary relationships we can understand, his images take on an empathy impossible at a crowd scale. These are poignant scenes of longing and frustration, union and separation, which will be recognizable, one way or another, to everyone who has passed through the present interval. Which is to say, to everyone. WM

Germany | Mexico, Stay Apart Together, Spencer Tunick, 2020

Tunick’s current work is included in “LIFE DURING WARTIME: ART IN THE AGE OF CORONAVIRUS,” USF Contemporary Art Museum’s first major virtual art exhibition, opening June 6.


For more of Tunick’s work:





Daniel Maidman

Daniel Maidman is a painter and writer. His art is included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Long Beach Museum of Art, as well as numerous private collections, among them those of New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz, Chicago collector Howard Tullman, Disney senior vice president Jackson George, and Gemini-winning screenwriter Jeremy Boxen. He has produced paintings in collaboration with best-selling novelist China Miéville, award-winning poet Kathleen Rooney, independent film icon Martin Donovan, and noted installation artist Erika Johnson. Maidman’s art and writing on art have been featured in ARTnews, Forbes, Juxtapoz, Whitehot Magazine, Hyperallergic, American Art Collector, International Artist, Poets/Artists, MAKE, Manifest, and The Artist’s Magazine. He blogs for The Huffington Post. He lives and paints in Brooklyn, New York.

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