'Men-Ups': Rion Sabean's Gender-Bending Photos

An attractive figure poses seductively. Lips pursed, chest out, legs crossed in a fashion that suggests both naivete and sexuality, and a "smize" that would make Tyra herself proud. Do you have a mental image yet? Sounds like many a magazine advertisement to me. But this image is a little different -- the figure in question is a man. And he's wearing army fatigues.

The photograph in question is just one in a series of images created by 26-year-old photographer, Rion Sabean, in a collection he's aptly dubbed "Men-Ups." A far cry from the usual suspects present in pin-ups, Sabean's models (which include himself) sport full beards and tattoos, and pose with a variety of props, including sporting gear, power tools and free weights. (Scroll down to see a full slideshow of the collection.)

On Sabean's website, he explains the general themes that are present in all of his photographs:

My works focus on gender and sexuality, wherein I attempt to bring light to the scrutiny and judgments of society through the use of exaggerated story-telling.

The obviousness of the "exaggeration" in these photos is something that made me stop and think. Each and every one of them struck me as utterly ridiculous, and I think that most viewers would agree. (I literally laughed out loud when I first saw them.) Because really, anyone posing with such an earnest, doe-eyed expression on their face must be joking. However, if you exchanged the male figures in each frame for a classically attractive woman, they might be more titillating than funny -- and most people probably wouldn't think twice.

As Sabean tells Feature Shoot, "It has always interested me how the sexes have been pitted against one another ... How can color have a sex? How can a pose be acceptable (and even provocative) for one, and not the other?"

It's this disruption of and challenge to the norm that makes these "Men-Ups" so much fun. They remind us that there is an element of performance present in these poses -- and in most of the editorials, commercials and billboards that we're exposed to on a daily basis. (Just look at every perfume advertisement ever -- if that's not overacting, I don't know what is.)

Jean Kilbourne, the filmmaker behind the "Killing Us Softly" series which examines in-depth the issue of gender and advertising, aptly sums up the power of an image:

Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images, they sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a great extent, they tell us who we are and who we should be.

Using Sabean's photos as a template, perhaps what we should be doing is embracing a little experimentation and recognizing the ridiculousness inherent in so many parts of our lives. So ladies (and gentlemen) -- grab a prop and start posing.

Click through to see all of Sabean's leading men. (The one holding a power drill is the photographer himself.)