Rion Sabean leans back, points his toe toward the sky and opens his eyes wide coquettishly as he holds a power drill. Every aspect of the photo screams a different message. It's hard to know what to make of a man posed like a classic pinup girl.
That's the point of his Men-Ups series, Sabean said.
"I've always been intrigued about sexuality and gender identity and how the sexes are relegated to qualities that aren't inherent and have nothing to do with biology like pinup poses and colors and clothing," said Sabean, 28, a Tampa Web designer and photographer for a property management company.
In attempt to challenge those notions, Sabean came up with the idea for Men-Ups while he was still a photography student at the University of South Florida and enlisted friends to model for the series. It didn't take a lot of convincing to get them on board.
Model Kienan Almeida, 31, an arist/illustrator from Tampa, loved his first and only modeling gig.
"When I looked at the pictures, I thought they were really funny," he said. "I guess I don't think of pin-ups as all that objectifying. They're more cartoony and funny than anything."
After rounding up 12 images that ranged from cheeky to hilarious, Sabean made a calendar for 2012 and sold the images online. The reception was mixed. Online commenters were all over the place.
"Some people, mostly women, were like 'It's about time'," he said. "A lot of people automatically assumed that all the models were gay because of the posing but half of them aren't."
But at least there was a dialogue happening — one that seemed overdue."I wanted people to question why are these poses things only women should do," Sabean said.
When the dialogue died down, something else strange began to happen with Men-Ups. Every so often, Sabean would find one of his images online, out of context and in the strangest places.
It began to spread, being shared on Tumblr and ending up in the weirdest places.
Models began getting recognized at parties and in the streets.
One model's picture was posted on an OkCupid online dating profile under the message, "Contact me if you're this guy."
Almeida said he was even recognized at an Occupy Tampa rally in 2012.
"I think I've gotten one or two dates from the pictures," he said.
Right now, Sabean is working on a piece for #artdealwithit, which begins Aug. 24 at St. Peterburg's Blue Lucy Gallery.After that he'll be back into shooting Men-Ups, with a more men and a little different concept.
"I want my models to be more diverse this time because last time I think I was beholden to using people that I knew," he said. "I want this idea to apply to any race or other group."
He plans to start shooting the series this month under the working title Men-Ups 2.