When body painter Trina Merry started doing camouflage body paintings—the art of blending the model into his or her background—it was a way for her to stay connected with other artists. It was 2010 in San Francisco and she had been working with graffiti artists.
This March, Merry moved to New York City where she became inspired by the architecture and what it means to be a woman in a traditionally “aggressive, violent place to live,” says Merry. She set out to explore the idea of women trying to shape their surroundings instead of just blending into the background. So in May, her New York City Camouflage project began.
Using mostly Kryolan products and Royal & Langnickel brushes, Merry created 10 images of women melding with iconic New York landmarks: the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Coney Island, Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, the Guggenheim Museum, artist Willem de Kooning’s home, the New York Public Library, the Flatiron Building and the New York City skyline.
Over the course of one month she worked with one topless model per location, no assistants, and photographed her work using a Nikon and no extra lights.
“Which is such a challenge. Sometimes I’m waiting until the lighting is the best it can be. I really encourage every make-up artist and body painter to learn to photograph their work so they can fully own it,” says Merry.
Each image took an average of eight hours, with the painting process taking anywhere from two to six hours. Some of her biggest challenges were the changing weather and light conditions, which affected the paint colors and her ability to match the backgrounds. The largest factor for how long an image took was how complex the background was. As you’d expect in a vibrant city like New York, Merry was also affected by interruptions from police or people in the street.
She wasn’t worried about the police: “It’s totally legal for me to body paint in New York. I know my First Amendment rights and body paint is covered under those, at least in New York. Hopefully it will spread to the rest of the country.
“The people on the street are really fickle. In the beginning they’re confused and ask a lot of questions. It’s just as people start to understand what they are seeing that they react really positively to it,” says Merry. “They’re fascinated and I’m treated like a celebrity. People are recognizing that it’s body painting on the street. It’s tricky. I like being in the studio. I like a controlled environment.”
Merry says that losing some of that control has made her more adaptable and honed her skills. She’s learning when it’s appropriate to communicate with onlookers or her model and that she doesn’t need a whole team to do it. By having just a model and herself, Merry says, it streamlined the work.
She learned more about camouflage painting and the importance of taking care of her body so she can work the long hours. Merry also learned to simplify: “I recently minimized my entire life to about three carry-on bags so I can take it with me,” says Merry. “I think we can overcomplicate things out of insecurity or ego as make-up artists. I think it’s important to be really realistic with what you need.”
Creating this project was Merry’s way of introducing herself to New York, a city she calls a “very lonely place to live.” In the process, she also got to meet and educate New Yorkers.
“It’s really important to share and not be selfish. It’s building character. It’s also good because I feel like I’m becoming a better teacher. Teaching them about perspective, color and about body paint in general – this is what the model is experiencing. Because they want to know where to take their iPhone picture, they learn when they’re doing it maybe more as photographers than as painters.”
Merry plans to add more New York photos to this series in the coming months and has already completed 12 images to expand it internationally.