‘I kept my eyes firmly above the chin’: Peter Stanford poses nude for artist Spencer Tunick, 17 July 2005

We stood up for one photograph and lay down for another, before wandering back to our clothes and our normal lives

One evening in the summer of 2005, I heard the American artist Spencer Tunick being interviewed on Radio 4 about his planned mass naked art installation in Newcastle. He was looking for volunteers for it on the day I was due to be there, as I was travelling up from London. I thought it might be a practical joke, but decided to go along anyway.

On the day, I showered in my hotel room before heading to the meeting place, a car park, at about 2am; Tunick wanted to photograph us in the dawn light. I was nervous, but as soon as I saw the other volunteers I felt fine. One naked person might be seen as an exhibitionist, but to be one of a crowd doing the same thing seemed very different.

There were more than 1,500 people queueing to be registered, some full of fear and dread, others annoyingly exuberant (probably to mask their fear). When we took our clothes off, there was nothing sexual in it at all. We had been advised to bring no valuables and as few clothes as was practical, and were concerned with getting our clothes into the carrier bags that were lined up in the car park in four different colours, so we could find them at the end. I kept my eyes firmly above the chin when looking around, and everyone else seemed to be doing the same. Soon it became as normal, as if we were all out for a walk together.

By 3am, dawn was breaking and we were marching over Gateshead Millennium Bridge. The atmosphere was very jolly and there was a great sense of community. As we walked from the docks to the second site, The Side, we were greeted by cheers from the windows of early-rising locals. If one naked person walks along the street, the onlookers have authority, but when you are part of a naked group, you have the authority.

When Tunick stood on the bridge looking down at us through his lens, I realised it wasn’t quite so easy to disappear into the background. I managed to hide behind the woman in front, but when the picture came out I was embarrassed to see my enormous stomach sticking out at the side of her. Next, we stood on the steps of the Sage Gallery, before reaching the fourth and final site, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, or “that 1984-looking building” as Tunick called it. We stood up for one photograph and lay down for another, before wandering back to our clothes and our normal lives.

The next day, all the papers covered the story and I framed this picture and hung it up at home. “Your newspaper has a picture of me with no clothes on today,” I’d say to friends. Tunick has done similar projects all over the world since, most recently in Hull last month; it is purely for geographical reasons that I haven’t done it again.

• Are you in a notable photograph? Email thatsme@theguardian.com

Martha Hayes

The GuardianTramp

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