It’s a logistical feat to get 50 naked women posed perfectly around the State Library on a cold winter’s morning.
While Swanston Street was dark and deserted before sunrise on Sunday, the Latrobe Reading Room was bathed in a yellow glow, amid a hum of chatter and the occasional peal of laughter.
Project members pose in front of the Redmond Barry statue on the library steps.
An unclothed pregnant woman could be seen casually flicking through a book on the ground floor, while others leaning on balconies stood in dramatic poses, easily mistaken for Greek statues.
The mass artwork for which they were posing was part of the Tour de Nood, a nationwide undertaking born of the #MeToo movement by photographer Lauren Crooke, who wants the female figure desexualised in art.
She said the impact of the “male gaze” had a lot to answer for when it comes to how women and non-binary people are treated.
“I was really annoyed that in art, women were always naked. Next to these clothed, strong men they were boneless and submissive,” she said.
“Societies struggle to disassociate a nude femme body from porn or sex. So to take out that sexualisation, stand strong, then choose whether you want to be sexual … being able to choose, that’s why it’s so powerful.”
Crooke’s works are reminiscent of the mass nude photography by Spencer Tunick – such as the photos taken in Melbourne or the 5000-strong gathering on the steps of the Sydney Opera House – but hers focus on feminine figures ingrained in their surroundings.
Participant Sara Yarwood said her involvement was not “making a statement” about her body but rather exercising her right to choose how and when her naked body is seen.
“I have the permission to make this choice, and I’m doing it,” she said. “It’s an empowering space.”
Lyndsay Howell said when she looked around the room, it was not just about nudity but about seeing each person’s “history and their personal journey”.
“There’s pregnant women here, and some people have scars. We all look different, and there’s an incredible strength in that,” she said. “But what you also see is real. It’s not what’s put up on a billboard or in every magazine. People had said, ‘Oh my god, you’re so brave, I’d never have the confidence to do that.’ But the fact is, you’re just finally being you.”
With the temperature less than 5 degrees at 8.30am, a smaller (and arguably braver) group of women and non-binary people amassed outside in front of the Redmond Barry statue for one last photo.
The group waved at a passing tram as they dropped their dressing gowns. The driver dinged brightly in reply.
Only the day before, thousands had gathered on the State Library’s steps to protest against the recent curtailing of abortion rights and bodily autonomy in America through the US Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v Wade.
Models, and others who could not make it, donated $20 to be involved in the photo shoot, and the $1400 raised is to be given to a reproductive rights charity.
Crooke says there is often pushback when the group wants to work in public places. A previously approved shoot outside the Sydney Town Hall was curtailed by NSW Police in May.
“Every time we do this, we make a lot of people angry,” she said. “I usually just ask them, ‘Why are you angry? Why are you sexualising these bodies?’ But often when we do it in public, people are most likely not going to approach in person, because there is that kind of mass power.”