It's not uncommon to see people in their swim trunks along the shores of the Dead Sea. What is uncommon is hundreds of naked people in white body paint congregating there, but the hordes that gathered over the weekend weren't there to take a dip in the famous salty water. The Guardian reports the surreal sight Sunday in Arad, in southeastern Israel, was part of American photographer Spencer Tunick's latest photo shoot to showcase the plight of the dwindling body of water.
The Dead Sea has been receding a little more than 3 feet per year, with its waters being used by Israel and Jordan for drinking water and agriculture; mineral extraction and evaporation sped up by global warming have exacerbated things. Tunick, who also shot at the Dead Sea site in 2011 and 2016, says his photographic subjects were painted in all white as a reference to the biblical character of Lot's wife, who's turned into a pillar of salt.
CNN notes that Tunick is known for his massive nude photo shoots, with past ones taking place at a glacier in Switzerland and at the Sydney Opera House. Tunick praised his subjects for this project, who "came and risked everything, their bodies, their reputations," per the Times of Israel. "They're true art warriors and adventurers." Arad's mayor, Nisan Ben Hamo, appreciates Tunick's efforts. "If [the Dead Sea] disappears, if we won't engage now with a plan, how to save this pearl, we will have a problem," he said. "The fact that Spencer is here ... is a gift."
Not everyone is a fan of Tunick's endeavor, with one conservative Israeli lawmaker calling the shoot an "event of mass abomination." But the Israeli tourism agency paid for Tunick's airfare and ground expenses, the city of Arad ponied up workers and cash, and the 200 or so participants, who ranged from age 19 to 70, were all in. "It feels really natural, once you take your clothes off," a 26-year-old PhD student tells the Guardian. "You kind of don't want to put them back on." Her one challenge: "I think we just struggled with the rocks a little bit." (Read more Spencer Tunick stories.)