This article contains media that the editors have flagged as NSFW.
When I spoke with photographer Anthony Manieri, he was sitting at home in the middle of editing images from a routine event before preparing to fly to Los Angeles to do another shoot for a personal project that has been more successful than he ever anticipated. He didn’t expect a one-off shoot to turn into a personal project taking him around the world creating portraits of diverse, mostly gay men to promote positive body imagery.
A self-taught professional photographer based in Toronto, Canada, Manieri gained notoriety with his wedding photography (he’s in Martha Stewart this month), but these days he shoots everything from food to fashion to portraits to events, only doing the occasional wedding. A new project has taken most of his focus. He now flies around the world creating black and white portraits of nude men in an effort to promote and celebrate body positivity, and he calls the project “Arrested Movement.”
These days, there seem to be countless campaigns related to positive body image for women. From corporations spending millions on advertising portraying “real women” to photographers offering boudoir sessions for the “everyday lady,” there’s a cultural shift emerging around what it means to be a “real woman.” So Manieri decided to do something different.
Whenever you hear about body positivity in the media, it’s always directed at women. And rightfully so, because they get a lot of bullshit sent their way… But you know, we suffer from body issues as well. I feel like straight men suffer from it a little more silently than gay men do, because when you’re in the gay community, you’re judged by the way you look.
Manieri’s life went through a turbulent time a few years ago, and it prompted him to begin studying ancient arts of meditation and mindfulness.
My life kind of shifted a few years ago. I sold my company, my dad passed, I kind of took a couple of years off, tried to heal and in doing so I gained some weight … and I threw myself into spirituality, meditation, and mindfulness.
Around this time, he also began to study the work of Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher who photographed frozen water crystals.
The gist of it is, [Emoto] would take two mason jars, fill them with water, label one love, label one hate. To the one labeled love, he would profess love to it, saying ‘you’re amazing, you’re beautiful, you’re wonderful,’ and he would play Mozart to it. To the other one, he would tell it things like ‘you’re ugly, you’re terrible, you’re worthless,’ and play things like heavy death metal to it. He would take droplets of water from each, put them on a slide, freeze them, and look at them under a microscope. The one that was professed love to looked like a beautiful crystal. The one that was professed hate to it, looked like cancer. So his research was basically saying that because we are made up of almost 70% of water, if we’re negative to ourselves, or negative to another person, our bodies are alive and they hear that, down to the molecular level. . . . literally everything about that kind of clicked on the airplane. Everything in my past experiences, twenty five years of dealing with people not liking their nose in pictures, it all kind of fluttered in my brain and all kind of made sense, and I thought, ‘this is what I’m gonna do.’
On an airplane heading to London two years ago, he had an idea. He hadn’t been doing a lot of artistic work for himself, and had been in an endless cycle of client work, not leaving any room for anything personal.
Back home in Toronto around Christmas, he asked a few people to participate in a shoot, but hoped to fill a whole day to make the studio rental worth the cost. A Facebook post and a few hours later, he had enough volunteers to fill a two-day, twenty-hour shoot. He was astonished.
Manieri began asking his subjects why they came in. They all had relatively similar things to say, and some were going to great lengths to get there, even driving hours through a snowstorm, not considering turning around and giving up.
Why did they come in?
‘Because this is important,’ they said. Some men were coming up to me, telling me they were ill, and they wanted proof that they existed, that they really wanted to be a part of this project. I remember excusing myself and I went outside and I just started sobbing. My assistant came out and asked what was wrong, and I said, ‘This is just supposed to be an art project.’ This is affecting their lives. I’m happy that’s happening, but I didn’t expect this.
News of the project started moving worldwide. Manieri began getting messages from mainland China, South America, Europe, Russia, and elsewhere. He didn’t expect the project to gain international momentum so quickly. All of the men who’ve participated have been LGBTQ, except for one. Even though Manieri is gay himself, he doesn’t limit the project exclusively to gay men. But that seems to be the where this message has hit a nerve most.
“It feels like there’s purpose to this project. I can read what people are feeling, and I can actually see it. When I’m photographing them, there’s a moment when I feel like I’m holding space for them. Don’t get me wrong: some guys come in because they want to be photographed well, nude. But the majority that come in, they’re coming in for the message… it sounds stupid, but if it helps change one person’s perception of themselves, then that’s great. It’s helped me, completely.”
On the photography side, Manieri shoots Canon, and since he sold his studio, he just rents studio spaces and lighting equipment wherever he goes. It’s a challenge to keep the images consistent in the different locations. Everything is shot on a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, tethered to his camera. He tries to make the images as cohesive as possible, but it’s difficult when shooting in different studios every time.
As far as posing goes, he got the idea for dancer poses from the image that started the project. He was photographing a man in London, and at the end of the session, he jumped in the air. Manieri asked if he would do that, again, but without his clothes on. He agreed. The man used to be a dancer, and when thinking about this project, Manieri decided to play off of that, since there was a reaction to that image. He used that as a starting point.
So when these men are walking in, some of them are very burly, man’s men, and I have to say, ‘OK, you have to point your toes. I don’t care about your penis — it’s about what you’re showing me in your face.’ I’m looking at the lines in the body, and I want the images to be stoic and celebratory at the same time.
For now, Manieri is trying to figure out where this all leads. He is self-funding the project, and has spent over $40,000 of his own money on it so far, but has received a tremendous amount of positive feedback on the project. He just got back from a shoot in Los Angeles, and heads to Chicago and Dallas next, followed by the east coast of Canada, and then to Europe for the summer. He hopes he’ll be done after that, but people are asking him to travel all over the world to do these shoots. If that’s to happen, he’s going to have to find a way to start making an income off of the project. A plan for an uncensored book is in the works, along with some gallery exhibitions. “It’s not about the money, but if I could get some of that back, that would be amazing.” He’s already photographed over 270 men so far, so he thinks it may turn into a two-book project. He’s also asked other LGBTQ artists about contributing to the book — and they’ve all said yes — by giving them 2-3 images from the series and having the artists reproduce them in their own style. So far, he has a comic book artist, a caricature artist, a watercolor artist, an oil painter, and a sketch artist.
I’m pumped about this. I look forward to see where this goes. If I could just do this right now, that’s all I would do.
Body positivity, or a lack thereof, comes in many forms, and Manieri's images certainly show how the body shapes, colors, and ages of men are just as diverse as those of women -- and are just as beautiful.
All images used with permission of Anthony Manieri.