“Our fashion choices don’t just reflect who we are,” according to controversial photographer Erica Simone. “They segregate us into different social classes and make us self absorbed about our appearance and not personable, allowing the pieces of fabric to hide us and project our being without words.” In similar fashion NUE YORK: Self-Portraits of a Bare Urban Citizen, a six year project in which Simone eschewed the trappings of cloth and fabric to shoot a series of nudes amongst the pedestrian horde, and the beautiful grey streets of New York City. The work is being published this month by Damiani into an art book.
Simone will host an opening and solo exhibition of unseen works from Nue York next Thursday January 14th from 7-10pm at Castle Fitzjohns Gallery – 98 Orchard in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. You can buy the book at nueyork.bigcartel.com. A portion of proceeds will be donated Beauty for Freedom, a non-profit fighting human trafficking around the world.
I’ve always been fascinated with clothing and how it acts as our #1 tool for self-expression. The thought of what life would be like if we didn’t have clothing or fashion to express ourselves or to interact with each other was an interesting concept that I felt an urge to portray artistically. This is where the project began…
Who are your influences in feminist art, particularly, ones who created nude work, or nude self-documentary?
Madonna’s black and white photograph from the 90’s of herself hitch hiking nude has always been one of my favorite photos, since a little girl. I also love Spencer Tunick’s work. His images are just surreal and stunningly beautiful. And I’ve always been a huge fan of Helmut Newton, Bettina Rheims, Ellen Von Unwerth…
Will you continue to do this in old age? In your 40s, 50s, 60s? Or do you plan to die at 27 like the rest of the rockstars?
Well I’m 30, so I missed the rockstar death boat. I’m actually pretty done creating this series. I may take a few photos here and there if the locations inspire me, but the goal was the book and the book has been published, so on I go into the sunset with other adventures!
Have you ever been chased by the cops? Ogled by them?
I choose to not answer this 🙂
Can you share one crazy anecdote from your time creating this book?
I’ve definitely had some amazing kismet creating the book. I met one of my now best friends, the actor Dean Winters, on a stoop in Tribeca while I was looking for a location to shoot and ended up doing a photo with him and the actor Lee Tergesen. In Central Park, after spending an hour searching unsatisfactorily for a location to shoot, I went up to a man, Martin Russocki, who was painting a large tableau in the park—turned out he was painting all naked people; so I had to pose! I’ve also in the process, gotten to play ping pong naked with Susan Sarandon at Spin… there are plenty of funny stories around this project.
How does it feel to step out into a crowded street without any clothes on? I’m assuming there is a lot of orchestration and planning to get the correct composition on the fly, but, in the moment, how do you feel? Is it a rush?
Yes it’s definitely a rush but by now, I’ve gotten very used to it and the only attention I pay to people is about considering them as compositional factor in the image—I don’t even think about the fact that they’re seeing me naked. All I have in my mind the whole time is what the overall image is going to look like, I’m past the anxiety of being naked in the street part. In the beginning stages, I was more nervous, but more about getting caught than anything…
There’s a wave of young women posting nude self-portraits recently, or overly sexualized images of themselves under the label of “feminist art.” Is this a way to desensitize people to the nude female form, to fight paternal objectification? Or is it just a ploy for attention, without any depth?
This is a convoluted question since I think that everyone’s motives and interests are totally different and I can’t speak for anyone but myself. For me, it has been simply about creating interesting and humorous images around the concept of clothing and fashion and contemplating a society in which there was a lack thereof. It’s about removing the stigma of the naked body in general and questioning who we are as people when we don’t have clothing or fashion to dictate who we want to be in society. It’s metaphorically about getting down to our real selves as well as bypassing the typical erotic expectation of nude photography. To be honest, when I started the project six years ago, I didn’t think anyone would actually see it. I didn’t have a name, I was just a young photographer making weird art because it made me happy. I was lucky that my photographs have been well published since, but initially I did not create them with the purpose to particularly draw attention.
Who are your favorite artists right now?
I have so many favorites, basically all somewhat classic photographers… Besides those mentioned above, I’m a big fan of my friend JR, David LaChapelle, Sandy Skoglund, Jean Paul Goude, Martin Parr, Steve McCurry, Jimmy Nelson, Annie Liebovitz, Sebastiao Salgado, Vivian Maier…
Who are your favorite bands right now?
My music variety is pretty eclectic and random.. I love motown, electronic, oldschool hip hop and jazz mainly. But some newer indie artists that are on some of my favorite playlists right now are: Christine and the Queens, Alessia Cara, TroyBoi, Hozier, The Barr Brothers, Seinabo Sey, The Avener & Phoebe Killdeer, Disclosure, Sia, Black Coffee, Daniela Andrade, Little Dragon, Odessa, Aluna George, Bahari, Deptford Goth…
If you could work with one person who would it be?
One? Impossible. I’d love to show up on a David LaChapelle or Annie Liebovitz set for sure and I would dream to travel with Jimmy Nelson. If I could photograph anyone, it would have to be either Hillary Clinton, Meryl Streep or one my girl crushes either Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett.
If you could punch one person who would it be?
Definitely Donald Trump. In the ball sack.