Interview by Noah Davis (@noahedavis). A freelance writer living in Brooklyn, Davis has written for The Wall Street Journal, New York, and Sports Illustrated.
The Skinny Dipping Report is much more than a wall calendar featuring beautiful, naked women (and a few men) frolicking sans clothes in bodies of water around the world. Sure, that is a key aspect of the plan, but it is also a travel guide, a how-to manual, and an art object rolled into one 8.5 by 11 inch package. And it has staying power. While the 2012 calendar includes 12 photos sourced from Flickr, SDR's next installment will highlight user-submitted images taken on all corners of the globe. Call it crowd-sourced social erotica with a focus on place.
Complex sat down with Peter Pawlick, one of the calendar’s creators, to the get skinny on the Skinny Dipping Report.
How did this all get started?
A part of it is that we saw this thing happening. In retrospect, we've been calling it social erotica. The Internet is fragmenting all kinds of things, including erotica. It's blurring the boundaries between subject and shooter. It's no longer just men taking pictures of women to sell to other men. People are taking pictures of themselves to post on their Tumblrs. We thought that was really interesting, and there are some really good sites that have tapped into that like Synthetic Pubes and Me and My Place.
Our take was they are really good at curating and collecting pictures of erotica, but they don't really dig deeper than that. What we wanted to do was create a travel guide but through the lens of skinny dipping. Where are these people? What are their stories?
Were the photographers excited when you came to them? It's always hard to pitch people an idea that doesn't exist yet.
Yeah, that's a good point. They were super exited when they saw the product, and a lot of the contributors helped push the story. Some of them do have Internet presences, so that really helped. Initially, they were sort of ambivalent, but they agreed. We had to get contracts from anyone who appeared. One of them, the photo that started the whole thing, we had to communicate the entire time with her in Catalan because she didn't speak English or Spanish. We really wanted her photo. She has this beautiful photo set up on Flickr, and that's what really got us thinking about place. It wasn't so much like "I'm looking at these photos and I want to fuck her," it's like "I want to be there," which is a different thing. We were really glad to have her on board.
The Skinny Dipping Report is surprisingly servicey.
Exactly. That's what we're hoping for. The point is not that you're going to pack your bags and go to Belarus. The reason that we look at all of these things is that we get vicarious pleasure from someone else. The Skinny Dipping Report is about experiencing place through something that is a little bit more tactile. Going swimming in a body of water is a pretty good way to experience that place, and it is a cultural universal. Anywhere there is a body of water, skinny dipping can happen. We like the idea that when people review food, they talk about everything but the food. Food is obviously a part of it, but it's another lens through which you can look at culture and place. Food is very taste-centric, but what happens when you look through some of the other senses? It was sort of an experiment. Can we become the experts? It says somewhere on the website that we're the world's leading authority on swimming naked and doing it well. Which is ridiculous, but hey, if no one else is, why not us?
Why a calendar?
The easy answer is that calendars have always been kind of porny, and we wanted to fuck with that form. This was very convenient for us, but as it turned out, 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the first nude calendar. We definitely didn't plan that, but we wondered what has changed since then? There is an interesting back story. The painting, Matinée de Septembre, was in somebody's gallery window, and the commissioner of police made them take it down because it was scandalous. From that, it became this kitsch symbol and became famous not as a painting but for the reproduction of the painting.
We also like the idea of offline expressions of online ideas. The most important thing is how the Internet organizes culture. We knew that we would have some sort of online presence, but when you actually make something that you can touch, it's just a little more real. It's one thing to create a meme, which is ephemeral and never really exists anywhere. We liked the idea of having an actual launch party and having an actual product.
Making a calendar also gives the project a "Hey, come back in a year" staying power as well.
You can submit a photo on our website, and our hope is to create next year's calendar from this year's submissions. This year, we really had to go and dig to identify the best ones we could find.
How did that work? Were you just searching Flickr for "naked people swimming"?
Yeah, basically. It wasn't as easy as it sounds. There isn't really good search criteria. You can't type in "good skinny dipping" photos on Flickr. It was a real challenge, but I think that we ended up with at least an interesting mix of places. What was really interesting to me was when we started getting the stories of each image. There is so much difference between the two guys in Iceland who were literally naked for five seconds, and the couple in Toronto who spent a long August weekend together. The tempo is really different. To have a common thread like that is helpful. It gives you a basis for comparing the experiences and the places.
Were you surprised by the positive feedback SDR received? What was the worst-case scenario and what was the best-case scenario?
We were always very honest with ourselves about a) this is an experiment and b) there's a longer-term strategy here. Ultimately, we really want to build the Skinny Dipping Report into a brand that can add on value to a collaboration with another brand. For example, the most important part about the Ace Hotel is not the hotel itself, but the brand. The name can add so much value to other collaborations. One way that we've put it to ourselves is what if you could create the Ace Hotel without the hotel, to create a thing and build off each successful collaboration? The hope at some point would be, for example, to do a limited edition sunscreen with an existing sunscreen company. They have the product; we can add some cultural relevance to that.
Between the ephemeral meme and that long-term brand entity, we want to find the middle ground; a portfolio of these things that people can buy into. We all come from advertising and creative backgrounds, and a lot of times the client isn't able to take the risk to create something like this. Increasingly, agencies are going to need to put their own equity into it, to create something and test it. That's how the start up world works. This is a first venture into that.
Do you get any negative feedback from the nudist community? I read one comment where someone said he'd been doing a similar thing for a long time but no one was paying attention. Then, you came along and sort of stole his thunder.
You know what? We saw that and we loved it. I think that's the first sign that you're invading something that people care about. We wish that they had challenged us to some kind of duel. Who's really the world's leading authority? It would have been great.
Sure, but on some level, it has to be a good way to get beautiful girls to send you naked pictures.
Yeah, I only wish. We'll see how it goes.