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Matt Granger – nudes in Amsterdam 2015

23 Sep 2016

In the autumn of 2014, ahead of my first guerrilla-style nude urban photo shoot with Matt Granger, I posed the question: how far should we push it?

Those of us who gladly shed our clothes for art, or for the causes in which we believe, or simply for the joy of it – how far do we take our nudity in public? We don’t set out to cause offence, and we don’t believe the naked human form is intrinsically offensive anyway, yet we know people get upset at the sight of it. This can be felt at a deep personal level, not merely the reflection-by-rote of religious or societal conventions. So how far should we push it?

When Matt announced his return to Europe in 2015 for a series of photo shoots and workshops, my question had simplified to: how far should I travel for it? He would be shooting in Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Manchester and London. For me, now, there is almost no limit to how far my enthusiasm might carry me. I said I would participate happily in each and every one of them.

The plan

Confirmation emails were returned to me for both Amsterdam and London, with the Amsterdam shoot set for 1 August 2015. This being a Saturday, I worked out I could put in a full shift at the day job on Friday, then take an overnight coach from London, arriving at the Dutch capital the following morning; do the shoot in the early evening, stay at a hotel for one night, and get a return coach on Sunday. Simple.

Matt emailed: “about the group nude shoot I have planned for Saturday 1 August, from 9pm. I ask that everyone meets at 845pm at the front of the water fountain […] I want to shoot it at the Rijksmuseum, having people standing like statues in the water, just at sunset […] once the light is right and there is no security nearby, everyone strips, runs in, we shoot in under 10 seconds, then clothes on and leave.

The journey

There were delays from start to finish on my journey to the Netherlands. The 9pm coach from London didn’t depart till nearer twenty to ten. When it boarded a Dover ferry for a 2-hour crossing to Dunkirk, the departure time was a quarter to three in the morning. Only in France did I yield wholly to slumber, sleeping right through Belgium and waking just before Utrecht. Arrival at Amsterdam came a little after 9:40am.

Pavement art in the red light district.

Feeling the love at Dam Square.

Body art busking in Dam Square.

I made my way to the central station, from where I would drift slowly southward to the Rijksmuseum. As I meandered from the red light district, to Dam Square, through the Begijnhof, and on to Amstel Canal, I noticed the city seemed to be in particularly festive mood. Unbeknownst to me – and, as it transpired, to Matt too – we were in the midst of Amsterdam Gay Pride.

The colours were out and, on this glorious sunny day, the atmosphere was fantastic.

Celebration worthy of Champagne ice cream.

Canal pride…

…doesn’t get much prouder than this.

When at last I wrenched myself from the party, I headed direct to the Rijksmuseum and located the fountain where I was to meet Matt later. As children were playing in its waters, I assumed at least this part of our shoot wouldn’t be an arrestable offence. Rather than wait around too long, I strolled through the Vondelpark and onwards to find my hotel; to check-in, freshen up and rest a while before returning.

In the shadow of the Rijksmuseum.

A very public fountain.

Entirely random, with a nearby Miffy.

The shoot

It was 8:20pm when I found Matt and half a dozen others gathered near the museum. Bathed in the natural light of a bright summer’s evening, the whole public space remained busy with people. Matt had been hoping to stage a smaller nude shoot ahead of the main event but, to everyone’s great annoyance, a policeman persisted in loitering a short distance from our spot.

With the light beginning to fade and no sign of our vigilant officer leaving his post, the pre-shoot plan was abandoned and we moved to our primary location. Others joined us, yet still we numbered just seven participants. We became eight when a chap arrived with his girlfriend and stripped to a mankini so she could photograph him in the fountain; Matt asked if he would like to go the whole way with us, and he agreed.

Come 9pm the light was right, the policeman had gone, and we could begin. One of our number took off his shoes and stood in the fountain so Matt could get his settings. Next we all followed suit so he could organise us positionally. It was a little slippy underfoot but we were only shin-deep in water. We practised two simple set-ups then waded ashore, ready for the real thing.

Matt gave us his final assurance that there would be no hard feelings if anyone wanted to back out. Nobody did. We all stripped naked and splashed back to our places. First we were photographed looking directly into the camera; secondly we turned 45° and stood with our eyes closed; and finally, as a bonus shot, we raised our arms and gave a big cheer.

© Matt Granger

© Matt Granger

The conclusion

By twenty past nine we were done and dressed. We’d signed model release forms before we started but Matt collected four more from some young British lads who’d been sitting in shot on the fountain’s edge throughout. They even joined us in the arms-up cheer at the end. They’d added another dimension to our shoot, and we’d added another dimension to their weird weekend in Amsterdam.

Matt invited everybody for beers afterwards but lack of proper sleep, at last, had the better of me. Although at any other time I would have accepted gleefully, this night I retreated through the wreckage of the city’s big party to crash into my much needed bed. Next morning trains took me back to the coach station, and I was on my way to London a bit after 10:30am.

There were stops at Utrecht, Antwerp, Gent and Bruges, plus a couple at motorway service stations before the coach boarded its Eurotunnel train exactly ten hours after leaving Amsterdam. The journey ended at London Victoria coach station around half-past eight in the evening, and I was home within another two hours – a lot of travelling for a 20-minute shoot.

Of course it was worth it! Even without the shoot, just to be back in the Netherlands for the first time in more than 14 years, and to stumble into that wonderful hedonistic spirit, was superb. Plus, after Sion in 2013 and Berlin in 2014, I’m starting to enjoy the idea of participating in at least one art project abroad each year. Those 20-minutes will sit well among a lifetime’s recollections.

And the London shoots were still to come…

From → Art

  1. Wilfred Glimmerveen permalink

    Hi Steve, great to read about your experience on the Amsterdam shoot.
    Btw i am the guy 3 d from right just beside you on the pics.

    Greets Wilfred

    • Hi Wilfred, good to hear from a fellow participant.
      I was a real fun shoot to be involved with – I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
      Best wishes, Steve.

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