Spencer Tunick was born in Middletown, Orange County, New York into a Jewish family. His father Earl owned a keychain photo-viewer franchise in the Catskills. In 1986, he visited London, where he took photographs of a nude at a bus stop and of scores of nudes in Alleyn's School's Lower School Hall in Dulwich, Southwark. He earned a Bachelor of Arts from Emerson College in 1988.
In 1992, Tunick began documenting live nudes in public locations in New York through video and photographs. His early works from this period focus more on a single nude individual or small groups of nudes. Tunick cites 1994, when he posed and photographed 28 nude people in front of the United Nations building in midtown Manhattan, as a turning point in his career; "It all started there, moving my work from just photography into installation and performance photography," he says. Since then, he has organized and photographed over 65 temporary site-related installations in the United States and abroad.
Tunick's philosophy is that "individuals en masse, without their clothing, grouped together, metamorphose into a new shape. The bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance. These grouped masses which do not underscore sexuality become abstractions that challenge or reconfigure one's views of nudity and privacy."
Sometimes, after gathering his subjects together, Tunick grades them by gender, long hair, age or other characteristics. Registration for modeling on his website includes questions about skin tone. A color chart shows seven boxes ranging from stark white to baby-powder pink and dark chocolate. In his work, he plays off different flesh tones or groups people of the same color. Tunick is also interested in the juxtaposition between the organic and the mechanical, and often chooses famous buildings or unusual structures as his backdrop.2001
In May 2001, between 2,500 and 3,000 volunteers gathered at the Place des Arts in Montreal, in collaboration with the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal. Later, in September 2001, Tunick photographed 400 nude volunteers in Greenwich London, each side of Cutty Sark, and then in a nearby street.2003
In April 2003, Tunick was again in London to photograph 160 nude volunteers in front of the Saatchi Gallery at its opening on the South Bank, and later 500 volunteers in a nude photo shoot in Selfridges department store. In June, he photographed 7,000 naked people in Barcelona, and hundreds of women in New York's Grand Central train station in October.2004
On June 26, 2004 in Cleveland, he completed his largest installation in the United States, with 2,754 people posing. In August 2004, a photo shoot was completed in Buffalo of about 1,800 nudes in Buffalo's old central train station.2005
On July 17, 2005 he photographed almost 1,700 nudes on the quaysides at Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, including the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
On September 11, 2005, he photographed 1,493 nudes in Lyon on the Rhône quaysides and footbridge resp. between containers. On March 19, 2006, Tunick photographed 1,500 nudes in Caracas, having people standing up, lying down, and on their knees beside the main Simón Bolívar statue.2006
On August 6, 2006 he photographed about 500 nudes in the courtyard of the Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf.2007
In 2007 Spencer Tunick was commissioned by the Dream Amsterdam Foundation to realize art projects for the artistic event Dream Amsterdam. On April 15, 2007, Tunick organized an installation in a tulip field in Schermerhorn. On June 3, 2007, he photographed installations with 2000 participants in Amsterdam: 2000 people in a car park; 250 men at a nearby gas station; and 250 women on bicycles on the Lijnbaansgracht — Lauriergracht. A small group of participants was photographed on a canal, Leliegracht, requiring a special bridge construction to create the illusion that the people were floating over the water.
On May 6, 2007, approximately 18,000 people posed for Tunick in Mexico City's principal square, the Zócalo, setting a new record, and more than doubling the previous highest number of 7,000 people who had turned out in Barcelona in 2003. Male and female volunteers of different ages stood and saluted, lay down on the ground, crouched in the fetal position, and otherwise posed for Tunick's lens in the city's massive central plaza, the Plaza de la Constitución. Here, the specific problems of photographing great numbers of people outside became clear: as Tunick could only shoot from buildings located west of the square (the three other sides of the square are government buildings and the cathedral), there was a rush to take the pictures before dawn to avoid getting sunflare in the lens. An accompanying documentary Naked in Mexico: Spencer Tunick was also filmed on, and around, the date of the photo shoot.
On August 18, 2007, Tunick used 600 nude people in a "living sculpture" on the Aletsch Glacier in an installation intended to draw attention to global warming and the shrinking of the world's glaciers in a collaboration with Greenpeace. The temperature was about 10 °C (50 °F). The Aletsch glacier retreated by 100 metres (330 ft) between 2005 and 2006. The environment-oriented installation was reported in several languages and media outlets around the world, Swiss politicians were playfully encouraged to demonstrate their green credentials by participating in Tunick's installation, and Euro RSCG Zurich, Switzerland received the AME Grand Trophy for Public Service and Not-For-Profit, for their campaign for Tunick and Greenpeace Switzerland, "Naked Testimony to Global Warming".
Tunick followed this installation with one at the Sagamore Hotel in Miami Beach.2008
Tunick announced plans to take photographs in Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna with 2,008 naked football fans in the run-up to the Euro 2008 tournament.
On June 17, 2008 Tunick carried out an installation in the grounds of Blarney Castle in County Cork with about 1200 people. Another photoshoot was organised for four days later (Saturday June 21) in Dublin, on the South Wall near the Poolbeg Lighthouse, with over 2500 nude people taking part. The South Wall event was somewhat washed out, with one of the proposed set-ups having to be cancelled. However, people praised the organisers for an event well run.2009
On October 3, 2009 Tunick performed another installation in collaboration with Greenpeace, this time to draw attention to the effect climate change is having on French wine production. Over 700 volunteers turned up at a vineyard near Macon, France for a number of poses among the vines.2010
On March 1, 2010 Tunick carried out a series of installations titled "The Base" on the Sydney Opera House Forecourt and inside the Opera House. The installations were carried out as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and were Tunick's first large-scale installation in Sydney, with over 5,200 participants. For the event, the CBC reported that Tunick had invited Lady Gaga to the photo shoot.
In May 2010, Tunick was commissioned by The Lowry to work with 1000 people in five secret locations. The resulting exhibition was called Everyday People, tying into a phrase used by L. S. Lowry in describing his art. The press were allowed a photoshoot at Peel Park, Salford on May 1, but the other locations such as Castlefields, Dantzic Street and Ringway remained unreported.
On August 8, 2010, around 700 revellers at the Big Chill Festival, at Eastnor Castle Deer Park in Herefordshire UK, shed their clothes and covered themselves in five shades of body paint for an installation that paid homage to the art of Yves Klein, Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly, and made reference to the BP oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico.
Tunick continued to the International Street Theatre Festival in Aurillac, France, where he had been invited to hold an installation for its 25th anniversary. The installation took place over two days, August 20 and 21, 2010. On the first morning, Tunick assembled participants with black umbrellas on a hillside above the town centre, and later with clear umbrellas in the narrow streets of the historic quarter of Aurillac. On the following morning Tunick set out to re-enact Eugène Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People", with the help of 250 women wielding French flags, 4 men and a smoke machine.2011
On September 17, 2011, Tunick photographed a large group of naked volunteers at the Dead Sea. 1,200 volunteers ranging in age from 20 to somewhere in their sixties set out for the Dead Sea before dawn and modeled in three different arrangements: in the sea, on land and covered in Dead Sea mud.2012
On June 23, 2012, Tunick photographed a group of naked volunteers in Munich, Germany. Tunick was interpreting scenes from the Richard Wagner opera "Der Ring des Nibelungen". The volunteers were painted in gold or red posing outside the Bavarian State Opera House.2016
On June 4, 2016, Tunick photographed a group of naked volunteers in Bogotá, Colombia. 6,000 volunteers ranging in age from 20 to somewhere in their sixties set out for Bogotá before dawn.
On July 9, 2016, Tunick photographed 3,200 people wearing only blue paint, in Kingston upon Hull, UK. The project was named Sea of Hull, and was commissioned by Ferens Art Gallery in recognition of the following year's City of Culture events. The gathering was the largest of any of Tunick's UK-based projects to date.
On July 18, 2016, Tunick photographed 100 nude women, in Cleveland, Ohio where the Republican National Convention was being hosted. They held circular Mylar mirrors over their heads and reflected light at the city to expose what they view as the naked truth about Republicans. According to Tunick, the point of the exercise was to "shine the wisdom of women to change the world."
Tunick is the subject of three HBO documentaries, Naked States, Naked World, and Positively Naked.
It has been observed that there may be an ambiguity in Tunick's work between "transgression" and "obedience". A "regimented" quality has been observed in the arrangement of figures in some of Tunick's work, but this, it has been observed, may be offset by the social transgression that accrues to public nakedness.