Monday, May 2, 2016

In The Nude with Spencer Tunick (repost)

"A body is a living entity. It represents life, freedom, sensuality, and it is a mechanism to carry out our thoughts. A body is always beautiful to me." ~ Spencer Tunick

I was a model for Spencer Tunick

By Chris Dobney, Online Entertainment Editor, Sydney Morning Herald
March 1, 2010

Ever wondered what people in the street might look like naked? Today was your chance to find out. The answer, as I discovered very early this morning, was: remarkably varied, and yet ultimately the same.

This was the aim for artist Spencer Tunick, who conceived today's "installation" of more than 5000 nude people on the Opera House steps and forecourt as an embrace between Sydney's gay and straight communities.

Courtesy of Greg Wood & AFP/Getty Images

Fear of being naked in public was just one of the challenges faced by many of participants, who flocked into the CBD from 4am today. Queuing was to be a hallmark of the day as people queued to get in, queued for the loos, queued for coffees, and, yes, even queued to strip off.

My friends and I left Neutral Bay just before 4am and, after a dream run into the city, came to a screeching halt at the corner of George and Bridge streets. Impatient as we were, it gave us a chance to check out the people in the street. Clearly, at this time in the morning, they were all heading to the same place we were.

There were elderly couples walking down Macquarie Street, single young women in cars and plenty of gay groups whooping it up as they headed down towards the Quay. After 45 minutes stuck in a traffic snarl of soon-to be naked people, we finally emerged from the Opera House car park. We were each handed a plastic bag for our clothes and directed into a marshalling area inside The Domain.

Soon after we arrived, a loudspeaker crackled into life and we were instructed to keep our clothes on for the time being (not hard considering it was a nippy 15 degrees) and to await further instructions. About 6am, Tunick welcomed us, thanking the "heterosexual people who have come here to get naked with their gay friends."

Just on dawn came the instruction that everyone had been waiting for. There was a whoop and a cheer from the crowd as the first group disrobed and ran into the forecourt. Finally it was our turn and, in no time, we were running up the Opera House steps in a state that on any other day would get us arrested. One woman beside me shouted to her friend: "This is surreal. It's like a dream."

"It's like my worst nightmare," groaned her friend.

The excitement was palpable, to be standing naked in such a public place and among so many people. But quite soon the cheers were replaced by "oooooh" as a chilly wind blew up. Inhibitions were soon forgotten as people struggled to keep warm and fulfil Tunick's endless instructions.

"I'm not the world's best photographer but I am an artist and a perfectionist," he said, as he exhorted 5000 people to work in unison. "And I want us to make an artwork you'll be proud of." Six or seven positions later came Tunick's most confronting request. "If you came with a partner, I want you to kiss your partner. If you came with a friend, I want you to kiss your friend. If you came alone, I want you to turn to someone else who is alone and kiss them." Eventually he relented and added, "... or embrace them."

Suddenly I was aware of being alone in a crowd: I was surrounded by couples. Bounding up several steps I came face to face with an elderly man in the same predicament. We took one look at each other and embraced, admitting that, while it felt a little strange at first, it was a pleasant enough way to keep warm. Now the crowd really were as one. It was a beautiful moment.

Once Tunick gave the disband signal, most people scrambled for their clothes, while some hung back, grabbing the unique opportunity to take happy snaps of themselves starkers at the Opera House. As I dressed, I was relieved to be warm again at last but also a little disappointed that it was over so soon.

About 1800 people stripped naked in May 2008 for Spencer Tunick at the Ernst Happel football stadium in Vienna (Photo: Reuters)

Naked volunteers pose for Spencer Tunick in the Europarking building in Amsterdam in 2007 (Photo: Reuters)

Undress circle: naked volunteers pose for Tunick in a Bruges theatre in 2005 (Photo: Peter Maenhoudt/Reuters)

Thousands of naked people fill Mexico City's Zocalo Plaza during the massive naked photo session with U.S. photographer Spencer Tunick in 2007 (Photo: AP)

Spencer Tunick photographs a massive landscape of human bodies in Melbourne in 2007 (Photo: Wayne Taylor)

Naked volunteers pose for Spencer Tunick on the Aletsch glacier in 2007 (Photo: Reuters)

Spencer Tunick in Sydney, 2010 (Photo: Kate Geraghty)

[Special thanks to Hari Ho for alerting me to this uplifting art event. First posted 3 March 2010]

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tribute to my dear old dad (repost)

My father in 1981, en route to Melbourne for bypass surgery

Lee Hong Wah was born May 1st, 1916, in Johore Baru, the fifth of six siblings. In his youth he played saxophone and drums in a ragtime combo. He also rode around on a BSA motorcycle and kept a pet cockatoo, which perched nightly on his bedstead (and was trained to turn around and shit on a newspaper).

When I was 12 my brother Lanny bought me a cockatoo which I promptly named Kiki, after the cockatoo that often appeared in Enid Blyton's Famous Five stories. In the early 1970s I bought a 1948 BSA from a friend and often rode it to work (although it was a bitch to kickstart). A friend named Arthur Lam gave me his drum kit and I used to bang away on it, driving the neighbors crazy. Another friend donated an ancient alto sax to me and I was able to play avant-garde jazz stylings on it (à la John Coltrane).

Only much later did I realize how much like my dad I actually am. The main difference between us was that I decided to grow a mustache when I was 19 - and he was cleanshaven throughout his life. I also took up smoking (like my mother) when I was 15, while my dad never went anywhere near tobacco (and thus never discovered the dubious delights of potsmoking).

Dad always wore his hair short and greased it down with Brylcreem. As soon as I could, I let my hair grow long and hated the feel of greasy kid stuff.

Like my dad, I can sit in one spot quite contentedly for hours. But unlike him, I'm not particularly handy with tools and household repairs.

And, like my dad, I have always been a keen worshiper of the Sacred Feminine. He enjoyed photographing his girlfriends in the nude (with a Kodak Brownie camera he borrowed from me, taking care to develop and print the negatives himself). When he was in his mid-eighties, he fished out his secret photo album and enjoyed watching me gasp in astonishment at his many "conquests."

"Where did you find the time to date so many women?" was all I could ask, marveling at how my dad had mastered the art of "camwhoring" 50 years before digital cameras became the rage.

I've opted to share a few of the more "discreet" photos here because the girls are probably all grandmothers by now... or a few might even have left the planet. If any of you happen to recognize any of the pretty ladies in these photos, please leave a comment or email me. I would love to know a bit more about them. After all, they all loved my father.

Lee Hong Wah was a simple down-to-earth man who enjoyed life and good food and beautiful women. Even on his deathbed, he was flirting with the nurses - and with one of his nieces-in-law who visited him almost daily in hospital. Yet he managed to stay happily married to my mother for nearly 60 years.

Around dawn on 14 October 2004, whilst he was being sponged by several pretty nurses, my father breathed his last. I'm sure there was a real sweet smile on his face.

[First posted 1 May 2010, reposted 2 May 2014]