Documentary bares story behind ‘Naked Las Vegas’ book

Who in their right mind would pose naked for a photo book?

Photographer Greg Friedler’s 2008 book “Naked Las Vegas” displayed 75 Las Vegans in their garmentless glory. But by listing only his subjects’ ages and occupations — corporate litigator, third-grade teacher, Elvis impersonator, porn star … — he never really answered the question.

A new documentary called “Stripped: Greg Friedler’s Naked Las Vegas” steps in to, er, flesh things out. It premieres on Showtime at 10 p.m. today and will be shown at the Onyx Theatre at 8 p.m. Wednesday and March 31.

“It’s not just about seeing people take their clothes off and having their picture taken,” said director David Palmer. “We dove into these people’s lives.”

Palmer filmed Friedler at work while both visited Las Vegas for several weeks in August 2007. Then Palmer approached the photographer’s subjects, asking if they would become his. Most agreed to bare all in the other way, too.

“I walked up to talk to them and they’d be standing there completely naked, completely exposed and completely honest,” Palmer said.

One subject thought getting naked was good for his reputation as a hustler. Another wanted to rebel against the oppression of his corporate environment. Another simply wanted a memento for her old age. (None were paid to pose.)

Palmer and his crew followed one subject back to her house where, as her poodle watched, the subject ground her high heel into the face of a male submissive. They interviewed another subject at a nude swingers party. And, in the film’s emotional zenith, a homeless subject showed Palmer the tunnel where he sleeps at night.

“It turned out to be a love story to these amazing, quirky, unique, fascinating people who make up the city,” Palmer said.

“Stripped” also documents the problems that plagued Friedler’s mission.

“Vegas was very stressful for me,” Friedler told the Review-Journal. “I went there thinking I had about a hundred people to shoot. Maybe two came through.”

Elvis impersonator Jessie Garon was a particular pain, according to Friedler, bailing on the shoot three or four times before finally committing.

“He drove us nuts,” Friedler said, “but we had to have an Elvis impersonator.”

To compensate for the no-shows, Friedler solicited strangers off the street at a First Friday art event. Those willing were invited to the Dust Gallery, where Friedler photographed 55 in just three hours.

“It was the most challenging book I had ever done,” said Friedler, who also has published naked guides to London, New York and Los Angeles.

A year later, Palmer returned to the valley with the first copy of “Naked Las Vegas.” He intended to film the reactions of the subjects to their photos. The story he found was more interesting: Many had lost their jobs, houses and relationships. And 15 of Friedler’s 75 subjects vanished without a trace.

“I was just riveted by how much things changed in a year,” Palmer said. “It’s like dog years in Vegas. Everything happens at seven times the speed of most of our lives.”

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@review or 702-383-0456.

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