Film of artist's mass nude photo shoot being sold in pubs

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The Independent Online

When 1,700 volunteers shed their clothes on a bright but cold Tyneside morning last July, they thought they were chancing nothing more than an unpleasant chill.

Now it turns out they may have left a more prurient legacy than the series of official pictures, taken by the American photo artist Spencer Tunick, which hangs in Gateshead's Baltic arts centre. Close-up surveillance camera images of some of the naked participants have been offered for sale to drinkers in Tyneside pubs and Northumbria Police have begun an investigation into "possible misuse of CCTV footage". Two civilian police staff face suspension.

"We've spoken to a number of officers and police staff and as a result two members of police staff are in the process of being suspended," said Deputy Chief Constable David Warcup.

"If there is found to be any substance in these allegations we will take prompt and robust action. This is not the standard of behaviour expected of anyone employed by Northumbria Police."

He said the investigation would aim to restore public confidence in CCTV monitoring: "We are determined that... will not be undermined, either now or in the future."

Tunick has photographed thousands of naked people - "human sculptures" - at locations spanning the globe, including Selfridges on Oxford Street, London, and Times Square in New York. His largest project involved 7,000 people disrobing in Barcelona in June 2003.

Models for last July's dawn photo shoot on and around the Millennium Bridge, which links Newcastle and Gateshead, included zookeepers, postmen, midwives and pensioners. The old, young, large and small travelled (clothed) from as far afield as Australia and Peru to participate.

Amabel Craig, 27, from Gateshead, who took part in the shoot, said she found it "very strange" that "cheeky" police staff might abuse their position. "I can't see what they'll get out of it," she said.

"They are abusing the camaraderie and innocence of the day. It was non-erotic, non-sexual ... feeling a bit silly standing around in the cold at times, but baring all in the name of art. It makes you feel a bit uneasy."

Tunick said in a recent interview: "These shoots are definitely not sexual, or I'd do 20 a year, rather than three. To see people rising, falling, taking shape, was amazing. It's sensual. To have so many bodies in one space produces a tension on that space."

A spokeswoman for the Baltic gallery, which helped organise the shoot, said it was "very sad that the goodwill and enthusiasm of the people who took part and made it happen appears to have been exploited".

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