Getting naked at Helsinki photo shoot

  • 2002-08-22
  • Paal Aarsaether

Nearly 1,500 people wore nothing but their birthday suits Aug. 18 at two Helsinki landmarks, as the Finnish capital played host to a U.S. photographer and his project to bare all in the name of art.

Spencer Tunick has gained fame through his photos of masses of nude people in the hearts of cities, ostensibly in an effort to reclaim the public space as an area for humans.

Surrounded by hundreds of shivering Finns, Tunick could not stop praising the latest subjects of his photos, to whom communal nudity is nothing unusual and according to legend, many of them were even born in saunas.

"This is both the biggest, easiest and manageable crowd I ever worked with," Tunick, who has staged shoots like this around the world for his Nude Adrift project, told AFP.

"It was like they and me were one, it was just wonderful, absolutely wonderful."

Estimates on how many people actually participated in the photos varied, ranging from 1,000 to 1,500. Tunick himself guessed that about half of the 2,900 Finns who registered to participate actually did.

One of them was Sanna Eronen, who had come from her home near the city of Turku, some 165 kilometers (100 miles) west of the capital, to strip down in central Helsinki's Market Place and Esplanade Park.

"I did it for art's sake and to be part of the project," Eronen said.

"And the photo will look very nice in my living room, too," she admitted.

The majority of the participants were women - male Finns are known for their shyness, while the women are famous for not being inhibited at all - with some even running and dancing around like children, clearly enjoying the feeling of being nude in such a public space.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Helina Mellanen.

"It's so good to be allowed to be naked in the middle of the capital, so refreshing, and it gives a great sense of freedom," she said.

A local trend magazine and the Helsinki City Art Museum invited Tunick to Helsinki. The museum, which partly sponsored the event, has not made up its mind yet whether to buy the finished photos or not.

"We'll see how the photos turn out before we decide," said Erja Pusa, the museum's chief curator.

The city's support of the event meant police were out in large numbers to facilitate the shooting, an irony probably not lost on Tunick, who has several times, notably in his native country, been arrested while taking his photos.

The city of New York even once tried to put a stop to his enterprise claiming it would be harmed by his shoots, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Tunick's rights under the First Amendment's free speech provision.

During the photographing in Helsinki, a park fountain that turned on automatically provided some comic relief as nude people climbed atop it to pose, though skinny dipping was not on the agenda.