This past Sunday, 18,000 people bared all and had their picture taken en mass on the main square in Mexico City by famed photographer, Spencer Tunick. According to the Associated Press, the huge naked spectacle was comprised of "Men and women from a broad cross-section of ages and social classes."
I’m certainly not a proponent of public nudity and see this event as just another example of the corruption of man. When we cease to even be shy about our own nakedness, we truly have degenerated further from the reality that hit Adam and Eve in the garden.
As an artist and photographer myself, I understand that one of the primary purposes of ‘art’ is to invoke a response in the mind of the viewer. Our media-cluttered society is causing people to become numb to the barrage of images that constantly assails them. As such, artists feel like they have to constantly ‘push the envelope’ in order to obtain the desired contemplations and reactions. This is the scourge of the artist in our society today. It is the curse of Hollywood and the cause of the filth that increasingly perpetuates itself on our television and movie screens.
The images of Sunday’s photo shoot have popped up all over the web. These versions are typically shown from a distance so as to not reveal specific individual nudity. They simply present a mass of bodies standing, crouching and lying together in a public expanse. As such, the photos themselves don’t bring as much offense as the thought of what it all signifies.
As I saw the thousands of people, representing different levels of poverty and affluence, I thought of the individualities and commonalities. Each person that participated was stripped down of the things we typically use to identify and categorize. They were all there anonymously in a shared state of awkwardness and vulnerability. But each person also represented a book of unique chapters, unseen and un-interpretable with the covers removed. Visible yet invisible.
According to UNICEF, 30,000 children under the age of five die each day due to poverty-related conditions. They "die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death."
This mass of children seems as nameless and impersonal to us as 18,000 unclothed people standing in a square. But they all have names and personalities. Jeremy liked to kick around a ripped soccer ball with his friends. Esmeralda enjoyed chasing butterflies across the grasslands next to her home. Sergio was the absolutely best hide ‘n’ seeker in his village. Mercy dressed up as a beautiful princess after school every day.
Look beyond the overwhelming statistics and know that each incremental notch is a unique and priceless life that was snuffed out way too early. Each count represents a soul that could have been reached through love and proclamation.
Take a look again at the Mexico City photos above. Put aside the repulsion of their nakedness. Instead, imagine a further 12,000 standing among them. Imagine that they are all under the age of five and will die today. What thought unsettles you the most? Degenerate art or the thought of 30,000 infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers painfully dying of dehydration, starvation, malaria and other easily-preventable conditions associated with poverty?
(Lower Images: Uganda, 2006)