February 2015 in Midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Don Stahl)
December 2013 on the Brooklyn Bridge. (Photo by Benjamin Joseph Mistak)
January 2013 in Queens. (Photo by Bryan Sanders)
March 2013 in Brooklyn. (Photo by Cloudea Monzon)
March 2013 in Manhattan. (Photo by Jim Tews)
July 2013 on the Upper West Side. (Photo by Jim Tews)
June 2013 in Brooklyn. (Photo by Christian Torres)
February 2014 in Chinatown. (Photo by Liz Devine)
August 2013 in Queens. (Photo by Cristian Torres)
August 2014 at the Flatiron building. (Photo by Benjamin Joseph Mistak)
This is one of the more random posts in Cup of Jo history, but it makes me laugh so much. Jeremy Levenbach runs the Instagram feed Levenbutt, where he features photographs of himself standing completely starkers around New York City. I met up with him recently to ask him a few questions, including why he does it…
How did you first get the idea?
Early one morning, three friends and I were on my roof in the East Village. We had stayed up all night and were taking photos of the sunrise — and I was thinking, oh, it would be kind of funny if I was naked in one looking out into the sunrise. That was three years ago.
You take shots in public places, like the Brooklyn Bridge. How do you pull them off?
I always get up as close to sunrise as possible. First of all, the light is nicer, and there are also fewer people around. Some neighborhoods, like the East Village on a Saturday, there’s almost no one up until 9:30 a.m., whereas in Chinatown as soon as the sun is up people are outside. We usually shoot on weekends because mostly people are sleeping. Williamsburg wakes up around 11.
How long do you stand there naked?
We first make sure no one is coming; if there are any bystanders, we make sure they are OK with it. The average time is about 20 to 40 seconds while I’m standing there naked. That’s when you feel really vulnerable. I do one of those 100-yard stares. I’ve noticed if I’m tense, my butt cheeks do a weird thing. I need to relax and everything kind of loosens up.
Have you ever been caught?
We were taking photos on an empty car on the A train. A conductor came up right when I was getting dressed again. It’s not technically legal. Some civilians have also walked up as it’s happening. Often they’ll laugh or clap. People in New York are pretty understanding that there are weird people doing weird things.
What’s your favorite shot?
The new baby. The couple, they’re both doctors. I met them at a friend’s Thanksgiving party. She was pregnant, and she thought it was a funny thing, and she said, “We should do one with our baby.” I said, “If you’re not kidding, I’m totally down.” The baby was born six weeks later, and I was like, remember me? The weird guy from the party. So I went to their apartment to shoot it.
Tudor City is another of my favorite shots. It was terrifying. I don’t love being that far away from the camera guy, because if you can’t see the camera guy, I just look like a psycho who is naked. I was in the middle of the road. A car was coming toward me and got like 50 yards from me. Then I hopped off the street. It’s one of my favorite shots. I’d love to see it blown up. It’s a really rich, pretty photo; it looks like New York but you can’t really place where unless you know it.
You took a photo during a blizzard. Were you freezing?
It’s really unpleasant. One of the ugliest photos in the entire series is where a friend had an idea that I should do a snow angel, and I’m face down in the snow. The pose is off, I look like a fish on ice. People liked it a lot because people were like, oh that must have been awful.
Do you have a dream shot in mind?
I would definitely love to shoot in more cities. I’d love to do one with my dad, maybe for Father’s Day. I’ve done shots with five or six different comedians, and although I’m not comfortable approaching anyone to do it, if Amy Schumer said, “Oh, let’s do that,” I would do it in a heartbeat.
How long will you keep this up?
It would be fun to look back after 10 or 15 years. A lot of places have gone out of business. Five Points had graffiti, another time it was painted over. I’d like to go back to locations and do them again years later to see how they’ve changed, to see how I’ve changed.
Why do you do it?
I like art a lot, but I can’t draw a straight line, so this is something I can do that is artistic and expresses myself. People seem to like it. I hope to make people laugh.
Thank you so much, Jeremy!
(Thanks for the tip, Tattly)