Fashion photographer Tarik Carroll wants to take the body positivity conversation in a new direction — by focusing on men. His EveryMan Project reimagines '90s fashion ads with a group of men of various races, sizes, sexualities, and gender identities — and the first set of photos, featuring plus size male model Marquis Neal along with other men, went viral as soon as it was released. Along with the images, Carroll is also gathering a collection of essays about men's experiences with their bodies, which he'll put into a book along with the photos.
"This project is geared towards creating a safe space that I hope will serve to liberate men worldwide from self hate. This book will challenge society’s standards of what the REAL male aesthetic is through the lens of re-imagined iconic 90’s fashion ads," Carroll writes in his project statement.
BUST called Carroll to talk about the EveryMan Project, why he chose '90s ads, and how the body positivity conversation is different for men and women.
What were the origins of the EveryMan Project?
About a year ago, I started toying with the idea about doing a body positivity project for men. Just from dealing with my own issues, and being in the fashion industry, working with models that fit the "Adonis" type — chiseled jaw, abs — I would hear their struggles about not feeling adequate. The pain is the same across the board. And as men, we’ve reallly been taught not to address it. No one is talking about this. So the best thing that I can do is to use my voice as a fashion photographer and my skills of doing visual storytelling, and create a project that can genuinely create a safe space for all men. I want to really encouraging everyone to learn about themselves and hopefully create a shift in the paradigm of how we look at ourselves and our bodies as men, and how we treat ourselves, and how we treat each other.
When you say the project creates a safe space, could you tell me what that means to you?
We’re creating a safe space at our photoshoots, where we’re shooting a wide range of guys of different body types. One of the models said that this is the first time he’s been able to be on set and show his body in this way. He was like, "I feel comfortable and liberated to be able to do this; the way you captured me, I’ve never seen myself like that." In that sense, that’s how we create a safe space. And also with the website, with the social media, those are outlets where people can see themselves represented.
In your project statement, you say you want to "challenge society’s standards of what the REAL male aesthetic is"— would you say there’s a "real male aesthetic"?
I would say there’s an unreal male aesthetic in what we see projected in the media; there’s definitely not diverse range at all. Especially in fashion ads. There’s a shift happening slowly but surely, IMG Models does have a plus-size male models division, but the guys that you see in the Givenchy ads, the Versace ads, it’s still the same. Everybody is super cut, and there’s not as much a range of ethnicity as there could be. What I want to do is show the range, show diversity. And seriously, everyone wants to look good. Everyone buys clothes. So why can’t everyone see themselves represented across the board?
You're reimagining ‘90s fashion ads, why did you choose that medium?
That’s the era I grew up in. I was born in ‘87, and growing up as a black kid in Brooklyn, the chubbier kid in the class, I was looking at media and loving fashion ads and not seeing myself represented. And the ‘90s was an awesome era aesthetically. Everyone’s really nostalgic about the ‘90s right now, it’s kind of like a revival. And I always feel like when you want to get a message across, you’ve got to hide the medicine in the candy, so to speak. So the ‘90s era, it's a soft spot for me, but it’s also to get people to go, “Oh, these are awesome images — oh wow, there’s a wide range of guys with different body sizes.” It’s to cause a shift in consciousness at how people are looking at these images.
How do you find the men in the photos?
We’ve been doing castings. They very first one we did, the one that’s out and that’s basically gone viral, two of the guys are very close friends of mine and then Marquis, he’s a known plus size male model, he’s awesome. He also really challenges gender norms, he plays with gender fliudity. And then we had a casting last month, and we have another one coming up. Also, guys are sending us personal essays that we’ll be sharing on social media and in the book project when the book comes out. We’ve been getting messages from people all over the world. I had a kid from Alaska reach out to me, a 16-year-old, who said, "Seeing these images, I know I'm in Alaska, I can’t get to New York for the shoot, but I feel so much better about myself seeing these type of images." It’s really inspiring.
So it's mostly through castings. And it’s definitely been a pretty big range of guys who have been coming. A couple hundred guys have been emailing me. We’re organizing everything, and some guys are not in New York, so we’re dong Skype interviews and getting personal essays from them. I also plan on traveling to do some shoots in LA, and possibly in Chicago because we definitely have a lot of guys in Chicago, and in London, too. We're playing out the next steps in terms of going to other cities to shoot this project.
So much of the body positivity conversation is focused on women, can you tell me about why you see a need for speaking about it for men? Is the type of conversation different for men and women?
It’s the same and different, because some of the issues are a bit different. Most of us growing up, we’ve been taught that expressing how we feel about our bodies is something that isn’t seen as "manly," we’ve all been taught to, excuse my language, but "man the fuck up," and that there are more important things to focus on than how you feel about your body. There’s a degree of toxic masculinity that’s going on. Expressing how you feel about your body is seen as "feminine," which you and I both know is complete and utter bullshit. We all have feelings about our bodies, and we should be able to express them, we should be able to talk about them.
It's also in how we as men are told to dress, we’ve been told you have to dress a certain way, you can’t wear pink, you can’t wear makeup, it's like a box that we’ve been programmed to be put in. So we’re really supporting people who dress more gender fluid, and just showing a wide spectrum. That's how the movement is different. There’s a patriarchy that is terrible. I could go on about that forever! Let’s make a change, there needs to be a shift in the paradigm.
If our readers want to get involved or support you guys, what can they do?
They can head to the theeverymanproject.com and also follow us on @theeverymanproject on Instagram. We’re going to be shooting all the way throughout next year. The end goal is for us to secure a book deal where we can release an amazing coffeetable book that can be distributed worldwide, and we also are making a documentary. If people want to get involved, they can fill out the contact form directly on the website.
Photos courtesy the EveryMan Project
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