Skin as Art and Anthropology

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
November 13, 2002

View Photo Gallery >>

How you look at skin is all a matter of perspective.

Some people think of it as the body's major organ—which it is. Others look at skin as a biological map of the history of early human migration patterns—which it could be.

Many people see it as a canvas to be decorated with tattoos and other markings—to convey group membership, convey beauty, or mark rites of passage.

Contemporary artist Spencer Tunick of Brooklyn, New York, has an unusual take on skin. He sees it as a sea of colors, and thinks of bodies as an organic art form.

Lots of bodies.

Traveling around the world, Tunick has persuaded thousands of people to shed their clothes and pose, often in large groups, for photographs taken in a variety of places, including Times Square in New York; Victoria Bridge in Melbourne, Australia; the desert of Nevada, the floors of museums, on beaches and railroad tracks (view image in photo gallery).

"You get all shades of colors—browns, yellow, tans, many, many pinks—all molded together, forming a sea of color, a kind of visual poetry," said Tunick. "The work is a celebration of public space, and to me, people and bodies are the most beautiful thing that you can put in a landscape, as opposed to objects."

His work, along with numerous other perspectives on skin, is explored in a National Geographic television special, "Skin," that airs tonight at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).

"Dignity" of Human Body

Many of Tunick's pictures convey a sense of stillness: people arranged in a pattern, densely packed yet not touching, hundreds of individuals forming a whole. Others portray a writhing mass of humanity: bodies strewn across a landscape, limbs akimbo.

Continued on Next Page >>


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