More than Angelina Jolie or George Clooney, Spencer Tunick knows how to get people to peel off their clothes. The New York State-based photographer has convinced tens of thousands to stand naked and have their posteriors preserved for posterity. Revered museums around the world have commissioned his work, which requires elaborate organization, quick thinking, and a cool head (Tunick has been arrested numerous times). Tunick's next project will bring him to Australia, where he hopes to photograph a couple thousand naked men and women — straight and gay — at the Sydney Opera House on March 1, smack-dab in the middle of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Tunick, who is straight, talked to us about why the Sydney shoot means so much to him and why it's so hard to shoot naked Americans.

The Advocate: Why Sydney?
Spencer Tunick: Most of my work is commissioned by contemporary art museums or biennials; I usually keep my pieces under the context of a commission by the art world as opposed to just doing my work at festivals or rock concerts. I want there to be context to the work as opposed to, Here’s a bunch of people getting naked. I felt there were a few causes and a few issues I’m very concerned about. One being climate change — I’ve done two installations commissioned by Greenpeace.

Equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, which include marriage and rights that all straight married couples have — in the United States and abroad — is another issue I care about. This is a civil rights issue, one of the last there is. I wasn’t involved in the women's movement or the equality movement of black Americans in the U.S.; I was too young. So, when Sydney Mardi Gras approached me, I wanted to be involved. Hopefully, in my lifetime things will change, and I want to be part of it. I want to to make a piece of art that references this intertwining of gay and straight participants, that creates an equal fabric, and I want to do it at the largest celebration of gay pride in the world.

Do you expect this installation to look different from your others? More plucked or shaved?
I want to say there are more body-conscious people who are gay and lesbian. But then we have the bears. Maybe there’s more concern with appearance and the celebration of the body as an object — from the [gay] participants [though], not from me.

Tags: Art