ANIMAL’s original series I Should Have Shot That! asks photographers about that one shot that got away. This week, Zach Hyman talks about his infamous nude portrait attempt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This shot was taking place very shortly after I had a lot of success with my little NY exhibition, “Decent Exposures.” The idea for the series came when I was visiting the Met and was really attracted to those nude Roman and Greek statues. I thought it would be great to gauge public reaction to the subject, within a photograph.
After that first show, I gathered a team of people together, because all of these things are like heist situations: you have to go in, have lookouts and make sure nobody’s going to get in trouble or get caught. So I gathered five of my friends and the model KC Neil and my camera — I shoot with a Hasselblad 500 CM, so there’s a back that comes off the camera and when you want to reload film.
We’re in the Arms and Armor room — the one with giant knights on giant metal horses, all in armor, 4 or 6 of them or something like that — and I thought it’d be a great shot if I have this girl, KC Neill, running from those things toward me at the camera, like she’s trying to escape them. I thought the contrast would be nice because they’re fully clothed in metal armor, plus all the people around… I just thought it’d be a great shot.
We’re in there scoping out the scene for like 20 minutes and the model is pretending she’s on her phone, just doing stuff, and everyone else is walking around, and I’m pretending I’m shooting stuff in the museum. There’s one guard there. She walks into that room and turns her back and walks out, walks back in and walks out. The amount of time she has her back turned is really probably like 10-15 seconds at a time. I’m trying to figure when the best time to give the signal, and she’s obviously not leaving. I’m set up, I’m all focused, I have my exposure set, I’m getting ready to go, I bend down and I give the “go” signal to my crew and model.
She runs into the shot. We went over it beforehand. I wanted her to run in place, I want her to fall on the floor dead. Really, I just wanted two or three shots. I ended up taking six shots on the entire roll of film that I had, and I’m shooting her, I’m shooting her and so…
Really, a lot of things went wrong that day.
In about the middle of it, the guard turns around, sees it, starts calling for help. At that point, I have my shots, so she starts putting her clothes back on and I tell her to start walking out of the museum. I pull the back of my camera with the film in it off and I give it to my runner who immediately puts it in his bag and goes a different way out so they have no chance of taking the film. He goes. He rides his bike down toward 2nd Avenue.
We’re walking out of the Met as this guard is running after us, following us. More guards kind of gather with her, follow us out. They get on their radios and they call the front. We’re stopped at the front door. They hold us there until the cops come and arrest KC, take her out of the Met in handcuffs. The main security guy took my camera and held it. There’s no film in it, so I’m not worried about it. I didn’t get in trouble. Before I go to the precinct to wait for KC to get released and see what she was charged with, I call Aaron, my runner. He also has her ID — they said that that’s the only reason she got arrested, they didn’t have any information on her and they needed to detain her. I needed the ID and I wanted the back of the camera in my hands to know that I had it, safe. I’d roll up the film and put it in my pocket and have it.
He bikes back up and he pulls her purse and her ID and everything and he pulls the camera back out of his bag… and the dark slide that protects the film from being exposed to light is completely missing and was pulled out of the bag during Aaron’s ride down the avenues.
Those six shots that I had at the very forefront of the roll of film are completely gone. I tried to develop them and see if there was anything left and there was a quarter of the very first shot. There was nothing. There was just light. I mean, you can see a very vague shadow of something. But all of the film was exposed.
She was charged with “endangering the welfare of children”, “indecent exposure” and “public lewdness.” I went to most of the court cases, kind of observing. It had nothing to do with me, it was solely her in those proceedings, and all the charges were dropped because you couldn’t prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt that it was lewd or that children were in danger. I mean, there were videos of mothers and children watching the thing happen, but I don’t think anybody knew that it was not supposed to be happening.
This is happening in an art museum, it wasn’t, y’know, she wasn’t fingering herself or anything lewd. She was just posing.
The purpose was to make the world question the ways in which we close off, wall up, and hide ourselves, both physically and metaphorically. This is what a lot of my work was about at the time.
All of those charges were dropped, but I did not have the shot. Every day — almost every day, in the beginning, but not so much anymore — that was killer to me. It just killed, because it was such a big shoot and such an intense thing and such an adrenaline-filled thing that it was just too much and I’ve never gone back.
I’ve always said “one day, I will try to shoot the same thing again,” but I don’t know when that will be.
Zach Hyman is a NY-based photographer behind the Decent Exposures series. He has just finished a new series of nude self-portraits in India and will be taking part in Brooklyn Open Studios in early September, so come by. I Should Have Shot That! is illustrated by the amazing James Noel Smith.