Harvey Drouillard took his first public nude photo on April 2, 1994, during the debauchery that is Ann Arbor's infamous Hash Bash. Since then he's made it a tradition shooting each year in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Ann Arbor Art Fairs. For Drouillard, the art is in the stunt — he makes sure that there are no cops, and most importantly, no children — before his model quickly disrobes amid the crowd. He's outlasted Ann Arbor's Naked Mile run, which may very well make his annual tradition the longest continuous public nude event. We spoke with him by phone to learn more.
Metro Times: So who's the authority on whether this is the longest-lasting public nude event?
Harvey Drouillard: This is according to Internaturally magazine. I think it's pretty easy to verify. There are some things that happened at places like nude beaches and nude resorts — but that's not what I'm walking about. I'm specifically talking about public nudity, not just nude people out in the desert at Burning Man or some shit.
Drouillard: They were the largest naturist magazine on Earth. I had been doing articles with them for years. It was really easy for them to find out what public nude events were running and when. A blip on their radar was the Ann Arbor Naked Mile, which ran for 15 years. I think it was the law school students that would run naked to blow off steam on the last day of classes. It started off with just a few people, then over the years it went up to hundreds. On the final year, there was 3,000 runners and 10,000 spectators. But the problem was the spectators were just taking videos of the young college girls and their crotch shots and that stuff, so they wrecked it.
MT: You said "the world," but nudity in this context is really more of a Western thing, right?
Drouillard: Oh yeah. And when Europeans look at nude stuff, they think it's really old-fashioned. It's not novel to be nude. For them it's just no big deal. Anybody can shoot nudes.
MT: For you, it's not about just taking a nude photo — the art is the stunt of pulling it off in a dense urban area, right?
Drouillard: There's several kind of aspects of the art that I think are important that I originally didn't. Like on the first day, I didn't know of any of this stuff. Now after 21 years and reflecting and looking at videos and seeing what's going on, I know the art itself is there's a landscape, and there's nudes, and it's trying to take a great nonsexual photograph of a great local landmark.
Well, that's all good and well, but that's what you see in context. That's what you see when I present that 8 by 10. But when people see the art occurring, it's really bizarre. We pull off that picture that looks like they've been walking for hours and we do it in a matter of a couple of seconds, and what happens is something so shocking, but not in a scary way. It silences everyone — unless they're in a car and they honk their horn. But the people on the street who are right next to the nudity go completely dead silent — doesn't matter how many people there are.
MT: Why do you shoot the art fair every year?
Drouillard: I lived downtown, and as I started shooting it, it just seemed like a natural thing. It's a great art fair with a lot of great artists. I was kind of trying to showcase some of my favorite art. I'd shoot at some of my favorite booths. It was a very easy sort of safety cloak if you will, with a whole bunch of public walking around.
MT: Over the past 20 years, have attitudes in the media changed about what you're doing?
Drouillard: It has. At first it was like, "Oh, that's straight up breaking the law, no question." And no one was paying attention to what I'm actually doing. They just saw nudity in public and said, "Who's this guy?" And then they found out that my rule was no kids, no cops, and then they were like, "Hold on, let's take another look at this."
If I was a flash in the pan, I'm sure I would've had long-standing negative connotations about my art, but I've had the great fortune to be able to withstand time and to be able to explain it to the naysayers.
Catch Drouillard at the Ann Arbor Art Fairs (or not — he's really stealthy); 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; artfairs.visitannarbor.org; admission is free. See more of Drouillard's work at harveyphotos.co.