When 26-year-old Florida photographer Rion Sabean began his latest project — a series of photographs of men in classic pin-up poses — he had no idea the reaction they'd inspire in people. Sabean's "Men-Ups" casts men in classically masculine configurations (the bearded, the burly, the blue collar) and positions them in Vargas-style poses that are usually reserved for the ultra-feminine women. The result, which he's hoping to turn into a calendar by year's end, is thought-provoking, riveting, and amusing. The Advocate talked with Sabean about his "Men-Ups."
What inspired the project?
In essence, the project was something that I knew for a long time had to happen, but I just hadn't worked out how I would achieve it. I know around the time that I did start formulating it all, that I was taking a feminist literature class that was really triggering these really great reactions with me that probably pushed my creatively even further.
How have men and women reacted to the images? Differently? What is the typical reaction?
I would say that in general the response has been pretty positive on both sides. Females tend to really enjoy the focus being taken away from them for once, while males seem to think that it's more comical. I would say the overarching reaction people cling to is that they're fun and just beautiful to look at. But then it gets murkier depending on sexual orientation, because I've noticed that a lot of older straight males that I know, that while they don't seem to dislike the works, have said "I don't get it."
When is the calendar going to be available?
The calendar will
be ready by December, come hell or high water! I'm working with a very
small company and am currently going to submit an unfinished mockup to
check the quality and make sure it's acceptable.
You play with gender binaries, clearly. Is that something that’s has personal relevance?
wouldn't fully say that it feels personal, so much as pertinent. I just
know that there are very specific things that society has always said,
and still says, that males should and shouldn't do — and females too —
and that doesn't bode well with me. I just live by the mantra that these
rules are so minuscule that they don't even matter. They're constructs
and completely baseless, so why should be ascribe to them?
Are you gay, straight, bi?
am gay. Although, not all my models are, and a decent amount
automatically assume that they are, either because they're posed like
that, or possibly by association with me. I always thought that was
You posed yourself for one of the Men-Ups. How awkward did you feel? Did you channel your inner Vargas girl?
was only awkward to the extent that I was alone in the studio, trying
to achieve this almost impossible pose, whilst sitting atop a toolbox,
making the right face at the right time, and then trying to take the
photo all at the same time. It was pretty insane, and actually really
pushed the idea of these poses being far-fetched even further, because I
was having issues even replicating it, as were other models I had
worked with. Beyond all that, I did do research solely on poses before I
even began shooting any of the models. So, they really helped to have a
standard, or reference.