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Photographer comes to St. Pete to photograph the nude in public places

She wore nothing beneath her white flower patterned dress. An hour before, Maddie Kaye had even pinned down the arm straps so she could quickly wiggle out of it, and just as speedily tug it back on.

The 24-year-old bartender has nightmares of being naked in public, sometimes trapped in an elevator with others. But she thought maybe this stunt with the man she met the night before would help.

Her beer shook in her hand. She sat at the table inside the Engine No. 9 restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg Friday afternoon, beside the window with the shades opened. In the background, patrons drank and ate at the bar. Out front, Harvey Drouillard waited with a camera and a hand in the air.

Thumbs up.

The dress fell in a ruffled pile, just as she had practiced. She walked outside, flashed her peach rear to Drouillard as she posed and read the outdoor menu.

Inside, someone finally noticed.

"Look at that," said Kevin Rowe, seated at the end of the bar.

As calmly as if she had left behind her keys, Kaye walked inside again, sat down at her seat and dressed.

"Look," Rowe nudged the woman next to him.

By the time the woman craned her neck to see, Kaye and Drouillard were gone.

"She was completely nude," Rowe said. "Naked."

That picture will probably be a postcard in the future, or possibly inside a calendar, or even hung in an art gallery. It was the artist Drouillard's first visit to St. Petersburg, and already things were going better than expected.

• • •

Earlier, on the stage inside the Local 662 bar on Central Avenue, Drouillard held a stopwatch as Kaye practiced disrobing.

"Eight seconds on your first time!" Drouillard, 49, shouted. "Oh my God that is actually a record."

He has traveled to 22 cities over the past 20 years shooting more than 3,000 naked people posed in front of historic or eclectic buildings.

The Ann Arbor, Mich., artist has photographed nubile young women he met through word of mouth, and oddly shaped older men who replied to his ads on Craigslist.

In impromptu public photoshoots, Drouillard directs as the models pose, walk or sit for coffee in public. He captures the public reaction, or the lack of it. In his best photos, the naked models blend into a city scene as they cross the street, as if the models were in a dream rushing to work before they, or anyone else, noticed they had forgotten their clothes.

His art has sold for a few dollars on postcards, and for as much as $18,000 — that piece hangs in a San Francisco restaurant.

Kaye met the artist at a bar the night before, when her friend showed her a calendar of Drouillard's work. The photos looked timeless in black-and-white, she thought, not sexual.

Along with heights, Kaye was terrified of posing nude in public. But she's adventurous. She left her number with Drouillard and didn't think about it until he called the next day.

• • •

Kaye posed in front of the Amsterdam bar; she was served a latte and a scone by the extremely surprised owner of Genaro Coffee Co. A passing woman shouted, "I'm a minister, what was that!" as she waved her finger disapprovingly.

Kaye even rested her buttocks on the cold metal of the Salvador Dali Museum's melting bench beneath the branches of the Wish Tree.

Drouillard said his photos are not meant to catch a reaction or to stun an audience, though he does love watching people react. But he puts the models in scenes of everyday life, like tourists experiencing a city, because he wants to praise its architecture and culture with the naked bodies of its citizens.

He has had run-ins with police in some cities, but he works so fast that he's often gone before police can respond to complaints. He didn't have any problems Friday.

The last shot of the day was the Ponce De Leon Hotel, built in 1922.

Kaye leaned against the building's side wearing only her black-rimmed glasses and boots, the cold breeze shivering her skin.

"This is something you don't see every day," said one woman who was walking by.

Another group crossed the street. A man in a white Range Rover nearly crashed as he turned left at the light.

"Woohoo," another woman yelled.

Said Kaye: "I feel so much more comfortable in my skin."

Weston Phippen can be reached at or (727) 893-8321

Photographer comes to St. Pete to photograph the nude in public places 03/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 11:38pm]
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