Topless In Grand Central: Allen Henson & Sarina Thai Go For Gold

Ed. note: The images ahead contain NSFW content.
In our first conversation, photographer Allen Henson and I established two very important things. First, that I, by virtue of being a woman, have breasts. And, second, that these breasts do not cause immediate danger to myself or those around me. Yet, Henson still faces a lawsuit from the Empire State Building, which claims he created a dangerous environment when he photographed a topless woman on the building's observatory deck. Henson's model, of course, was exercising her right to be topless in NYC, and Henson, who photographed her using an iPhone, was like any other tourist at the landmark that day.
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Since then, Henson's work has become something of an unofficial campaign for women's rights in the city. Yesterday, the photographer upheld his title by undertaking a second topless experiment. This time, he used transgender model Sarina Thai and the backdrop of Grand Central Station.
Click through to see all five of Henson's (NSFW) images and hear his story on how the shoot went down.
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Photo: Allen Henson.
When Thai removed her jacket and Henson began snapping pictures, he says the crowd's responses ran the gamut from "hell yeah" to "oh my god." And, of course, "cell phone pics, averted gazes, and not-so-averted gazes."
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Photo: Allen Henson.
A passerby did report to police that there was a nude woman in the terminal — though Henson reminds us that Thai was merely topless.
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Photo: Allen Henson.
Though his Empire State Building photos came from his iPhone, this time Henson used a DSLR. "The NYPD came and asked questions, left for a minute, came right back with four more officers, and told us to leave for 'permit issues.'" Still, he notes that "unless a tripod touches the ground, or there's lighting equipment involved, there's no need for a permit."

It may be easy to blame the police for disrupting Henson's photography, but he complied, admitting that the law isn't entirely clear on situations like this. It is legal for a woman to go topless in NYC, but since there's no clear line drawn for what constitutes lewd behavior — which is illegal — this may just be a case of the boys in blue being misinformed. As Henson puts it, "The NYPD still seem confused how to properly address these scenarios."
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Photo: Allen Henson.
Now that the photographer has expanded his art to include a transgender model, his work has taken on a fresh political and social commentary. "This isn't an exercise in regards to any legal awareness. It's more cultural," he says. What's he addressing here exactly? "American super-conservatism run amok."
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Photo: Allen Henson.
He goes on to challenge detractors, saying: "So, if the argument or uproar [against his controversial photos] has been about semi-nude women in public forums, now what?" He notes that, for a city that doesn't fancy itself very conservative, New York has certainly made every attempt at censoring this project.
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