Hundreds of models wearing only white body paint walked Sunday across a stark desert expanse in southern Israel near the Dead Sea, part of the latest photography project of American artist Spencer Tunick.
The 54-year-old photographer visited Israel as a guest of the Tourism Ministry to portray for the third time the shrinking Dead Sea via nude subjects.
"For me, the body represents beauty and life and love," said Tunick, who has staged dozens of large-scale nude shoots around the world.
Tunick depicted more than 1,000 nude models a decade ago on the shores of the salty Dead Sea, which is receding at about a meter (yard) a year, due in part to Israel and Jordan's diversion of much of the upstream water for agriculture and drinking — as well as to the mineral extraction and evaporation accelerated by climate change which have made the problem worse.
By the time Tunick returned for his second shoot five years later, the placid waters of his first visit had receded, leaving behind crusty sand and gaping sinkholes.
On Sunday, Tunick posed his subjects on stony brown hills overlooking the turquoise lake. About 200 people followed his directions, both men and women, standing straight and stooped, some thin and some rotund.
He said he chose to cover the models in white paint to evoke the Biblical story of Lot's wife, who was said to have turned into a pillar of salt.
Israel's tourism ministry bankrolled Tunick's flight and ground expenses, said Hassan Madah, the ministry's director of marketing for the Americas.
The city of Arad contributed staff and other expenses, said mayor Nisan Ben Hamo, who added he saw the project as an affirmation of Arad "as a liberal city", and hopes the shoot will bring more visitors and help raise funds for a new museum about the Dead Sea.
Some conservative leaders in Israel, meanwhile, opposed Tunick's project, with one lawmaker demanding the Tourism Ministry withdraw its sponsorship of the "event of mass abomination"
Doctoral student Anna Kleiman, 26, said she joined the shoot to bring awareness to the environmental crisis.
"It feels really natural, once you take your clothes off," she said. "You kind of don't want to put them back on. I think we just struggled with the rocks a little bit."
Engineer Gil Shavit, 63, spoke to reporters after the shoot, photographers carefully filming from his shoulders up to avoid his painted private parts.
"We're lucky to have clouds today so it's not too hot," Shavit said.
He said he posed for Tunick's 2011 Dead Sea project and was grateful to return: "It's fascinating to see," he said, adding, "Spencer can't do his work without us."