Photographer Gets Naked in New York to Transcend Taboo

If you think New York is tough, try taking off your clothes.

Photo: Erica Simone.
Photo: Erica Simone.
Photo: Erica Simone.

Photo: Erica Simone.

Photographer Erica Simone isn’t the first artist to make a splash sans clothes—just look at Milo Moiré, or for that matter, pioneers like Andrea Fraser and Carolee Schneemann—but that doesn’t make the images that comprise her “Nue York: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen” project (and book by the same name) any less jarring, especially given the circumstances of their production.

The photos feature Simone engaging in everyday activities familiar to almost any New Yorker: hailing a cab, buying cigarettes at a bodega, frolicking in Central Park, and commuting through Midtown. The only difference? She’s completely naked while everyone else around her is clothed.

In baring it all, Simone hopes to call into question the role of fashion in contemporary society, given that clothes obviously do so much more than meet our physical need for warmth and protection.

Photo: Erica Simone.

Photo: Erica Simone.

“As I watched an image-obsessed society care more about the sales at Barneys than the homeless people they ignore as they parade by,” she writes in an artist statement, “I began to wonder what the world would feel like naked, without the empowering or disempowering effect of clothing.”

Simone wants to inspire others to embrace a more natural, confident state of being—one in which nudity becomes untethered from the sexual connotations historically applied to it. “Could being naked in the world transcend sexual connotations and why is nudity so taboo that it is against the law?,” she asked.

But summoning the confidence to get naked in a city like New York—where even the clothed are subject to numerous daily harassments and nude performers are continually threatened with arrest—isn’t an easy thing. While Simone declined to comment on whether or not she’s had any run-ins with the law, she did note that one of the keys to getting a good shot is, well, not getting caught.

Photo: Erica Simone.

Photo: Erica Simone.

“Taking the photographs is quite exhilarating and challenging—first I have to actually disrobe, and in sometimes very busy environments, which is an adrenaline rush in itself, then I have to make sure to not get caught, and all of that while remaining focused on the outcome of the actual photograph, taking in consideration of all the passerby’s and the composition of the image,” Simone told artnet News in an email.

“People on the street sometimes don’t even notice me, which I love, but when they do, their eyes typically just widen in mild shock or they laugh. I rarely get outrageous reactions from people to be honest. It’s New York City, nothing is crazy here.”

Photo: Erica Simone.

Photo: Erica Simone.

While the project is undeniably brave and the resulting images are beautiful, it’s worth noting that Simone is young, thin, white, and conventionally attractive. She can’t change these characteristics, and they certainly shouldn’t stop her from making the artistic statement she wishes to make, but its likely that the response she gets might be altogether less positive if she not fit this mold.

“This is a complex question, with many aspects to consider. I am nobody other than myself, so I honestly have no idea how I would feel if I were in someone else’s body, but the message of the project shouldn’t have anything to do with my physical appearance,” Simone says. “I’d like to think I would be able to do this project whether I looked any different, and in fact, attraction is a completely subjective term. I’m sure the project is perceived in different ways by different people—that I cannot and have no need to control.”

Erica Simone, “Nue York: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen” is on view at Castle Fitzjohns Gallery from January 14–February 14, 2016. An opening reception will take place from 7-10 p.m. on January 14. A portion of the proceeds from all book sales through the gallery will go to the charity Beauty for Freedom.


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