March 22, 2006 -- Days after American artist Spencer Tunick snapped photos of mass nudity in Venezuela, police on another continent have investigated whether department colleagues have hawked close-ups from one of the photographer's last "all-in-the-flesh" shoots in England.
Police questioned a number of officers and police staff after receiving a tip that members of the staff did more than just observe the closed-circuit footage of the 1,700 people baring all in Newcastle on a cool morning in July 2005.
"If there is found to be any substance in these allegations, we will take prompt and robust action," said Deputy Chief Constable David Warcup in a prepared statement.
So far, two members of the Northumbria force have been suspended.
Police press officer Andrew Ward wouldn't give any other details into "the possible misuse of CCTV footage" but said that those suspended were civilian staff members, not police officers.
Apparently, staffers were shopping around stills from the TV images, according to published reports.
"This is not the standard of behavior expected from anyone employed by Northumbria police," said Warcup, who oversees a staff of 4,000 police and 1,600 civilians. "We have worked extremely hard over the years to ensure that the public can have confidence in the way in which we manage CCTV, and we are determined that confidence will not be undermined."
Nearly 200 cameras dot the Northumbria area, which spans 2,000 square miles and counts about 1.5 million people.
It seems some of the closed-circuit televisions focused on the group of nudes, along with Tunick's lens, on July 17, 2005.
Tunick, a New York artist, has traveled the globe shooting crowds of naked people. His most recent feat involved gathering more than 1,500 people in the nude in Caracas, Venezuela, and in September 1,000 people stripped bare near Lyon, France, for art's sake. In June 2003, Tunick broke his own personal best by snapping 7,000 Spaniards in the buff in Barcelona.
Most shoots take place at the crack of dawn to avoid traffic and gawkers. In Newcastle that brisk July day, more than 1,700 people turned up. Tunick corralled them to pose walking along a bridge, which links Newcastle and Gateshead, as well as in front of a gallery and a concert hall.
Baring It All for Art
The official pictures are on display at the gallery, the Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, which commissioned the pieces and served as a backdrop.
"It is very sad that the goodwill and enthusiasm of the people who took part and made it happen appears to have been exploited in this way," read a statement from the Baltic Center.
Despite the alleged sale of illicit snapshots, people have flocked to the seven-photo exhibit, which opened at the beginning of the year and ends this Sunday.
"We've had the busiest February ever," said Nina Byrne, Baltic's acting head of communications.
A large wall hanging with life-size nudes greets viewers as they step out of the elevator.
Byrne said that it's not too hard to decipher who's who in some of the pictures. "Some people have found themselves in the picture or have come to look for people who took part in the event, " she said.
Tunick's exhibit also includes a video monitor that retraces the volunteers' setting up and posing. No word on how many copies of the video exist.