Now Reading
‘I’ve photographed over 200 naked men to fight homophobia’

‘I’ve photographed over 200 naked men to fight homophobia’

One of the men featured in the N•A•K•E•D project from Romania photographer Tiberiu Căpudean

A photographer from Romania has embarked on an epic project. Tiberiu Căpudean wants to challenge homophobia, showcase diversity and promote body positivity.

The idea behind the project is simple: to photograph men naked and ask them to recount stories from their own lives about the times they have faced discrimination.

Tiberiu Capudean
Tiberiu Capudean (Photo: Javier Santiago)

Căpudean, 43, was born and raised in Bucharest. Asked how the idea for the project, entitled N•A•K•E•D, came out, he says it was a response to the homophobia of his homeland.

Romania and anti-gay attitudes

‘Romania is a highly homophobic country,’ says Căpudean. ‘There’s still a lot of prejudice, discrimination and violence. And while in Bucharest and a few larger cities there are some minor improvements, in the rural areas it’s quite dangerous being out.’

Despite being a member of the European Union since 2007, Romania doesn’t recognize same-sex unions (even marriages conducted abroad). Religion has a strong grip over societal attitudes.

‘The politicians that rule my country are hand in hand with the Romanian Orthodox Church,’ says Căpudean.

‘That’s why, not long ago, together they’ve managed to gather over 3,000,000 signatures in order to organize a referendum so that the definition of the family can be changed in our Constitution. In their view, only 1 man + 1 woman = family.

J, a store manager from Puerto Rico
J, a store manager from Puerto Rico (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

‘I strongly believe that the LGBTQ community needs more visibility. Therefore, N•A•K•E•D emerged from this need and from my desire to help those who are not part of a sexual minority to understand us. Not to accept us. I never liked this approach. Because loving or being attracted to another man isn’t something wrong.

‘So, fighting against homophobia was the main reason for my project. But there are other criteria based on which people are discriminated against: racism, xenophobia, body shaming, ageism, stereotyping, etc.’

Demonstrating the ordinariness of being gay

He says that in Romania, six out of ten people have said they would not want a gay neighbor or colleague.

‘I want to give a face and a voice to those that the homophobes hate without even knowing. I want them to understand that we are not really all that different and that our sexuality does not define us as people.

G is Peruvian, and the Director of Business Development and International Affairs
G is Peruvian, and the Director of Business Development and International Affairs (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

We have qualities and flaws, we are brave fighters, but sometimes we are afraid as well, we have dreams, but we also fail, we work, we pay taxes, and we want to have the same rights as our straight friends. Equal rights, not special rights.’

‘Another stereotype is that most gays live glamorous lives…’

Căpudean has photographed over 200 men from all sorts of professions and backgrounds.

Y is a French tailor
Y is a French tailor (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

‘One of the stereotypes in the heterosexual world is that the gay men are either effeminate or very muscular… but definitely forever young. In my photos, the gay men look quite different. I’m not trying to redefine male beauty. I just don’t believe in today’s beauty norms.

‘Another stereotype is that most gays live glamorous lives. I wanted to show that most of us are just regular people, with regular jobs… We’re men that just want to live our lives next to the man we love. That’s all. And I hope that N•A•K•E•D will succeed in breaking some of the stereotypes as well.’

S is a Chinese student - Photo by Tiberiu Căpudean)
S is a Chinese student (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

Besides Romania, Căpudean has also photographed and collected stories from men from all over the world: From Algeria to Australia, Israel to Japan.

He’s currently in the process of organizing his initial exhibitions of N•A•K•E•D in Bucharest, Brussels and Madrid.

‘The one in Bucharest will be organized within the Bucharest Pride Week, at the beginning of June.’

Keep up to date with the N•A•K•E•D project via Căpudean’s Instagram (@tiberiucapudean). He’s also happy for anyone interested in taking part in the project to contact him (‘I’ll be in Madrid till mid March, and then I’ll be in Amsterdam and Brussels for a couple of weeks.’)

Below are some of the stories from the collection, along with more images from Căpudean’s archive.

D – Sales Manager | Italian

D, a sales manager in Italy
D, a sales manager in Italy (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

‘Even in my early memories I remember I’ve always been a “fatty”. I became hairy when I was 14 years old. Kids at school often made fun of me. Growing up in a small Italian town, I’ve never declared my sexual orientation.

‘In spite of my body, I played theatre and studied ballet. But when you have to find a boyfriend or a sex buddy, things are more complicated.

‘When I was 30 I left Italy to live in France, in the perspective of a better gay life. When I send my photos on a gay traditional application, I’m often blocked or refused. The bear community is the best way to meet new people, but the community is smaller and it is difficult too to find someone.

‘I remember one day of summer I had a sort of crisis and I waxed my entire body… I was so sad…

‘Today I try to accept myself and be happy with the body I have. It’s not easy every day.’

J – Logistics Officer | Belgian

J, a Logistics Officer in Belgium photographed by Tiberiu Căpudean
J, a Logistics Officer in Belgium (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

‘On the old continent a lot people still look at the color of your skin, while in places like UK, USA and South Africa people don’t question you based on your skin colour. I hear this a lot:

“Hey sexy, where are you from?”

‘Brussels?
’

“No, where are you really from?

‘I’m from Brussels. What are you trying to insinuate by that?

“OK, but where were you born?
”

‘In Brussels. I grew up here most years of my life and up to this day. I still reside here. Does the color of my skin make me any less Belgian?

‘Several times I had colleagues walking up to me, asking me who’s the man and who’s the woman in the relationship. WTF?!? Are you kidding me? What a pathetic and offensive thing to say!

‘But I stay calm and explain to them there is no such thing and that it’s a rather offensive question to ask. I’ve seen very masculine gays and very effeminate straights.’

J – Shop Attendant | Spanish

J, a Spanish shop attendant
J, a Spanish shop attendant (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

‘I grew up in a Spanish village. During my teenage years I’ve been bullied a lot in school. It was a group of boys that used to take my glasses and throw them in the toilet. They used to tell me that since I’m a “faggot”, shit shouldn’t bother me that much.

‘The funny thing is that these weekly episodes didn’t bother me anymore because nobody else knew about them. It was just the bullies and I. So I would pick up my glasses from the toilet… wash them… and move on.

‘But one day, when I was about 13 years old, an older boy approached me while I was sitting in my bench, reading… and he told me “You’re filthy!” And the next thing you know he poured a bottle of milk chocolate on me.

‘I was shocked. I just stood there, all wet and covered in brown, while the ones around me laughed and looked at me as if I were a monster.’

T – Student | British

T is a British student
T is a British student (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

‘When I was 15 just turning 16, I was on the way to becoming a serious rower: fine boats on river. And I’d experienced bullying really since puberty began. But rowing was always the place where I was strong and people took me seriously, and we won pretty much all our races. We were really good!

‘So it was a safe haven for me. Like a second family. But as we were getting older obviously we’d get more comfortable being naked and the showers were completely open it was basically just one room for all the guys. So there wasn’t anywhere to hide.

‘And this one night I’m finishing my session and I was in the showers with one of guy, older than me, and I’d kinda had a crush on him in a little way. And we were playing around… joking… whatever. All fine, nothing major happens.

‘The next day everyone is treating me weirdly and I didn’t know what the problem was. And it turns out that a rumour was spreading like wildfire that I made advances onto this guy in the showers.

‘At the time my father was the chairman of the club. So a couple of days later my parents sit me down and say that a formal complaint has been made about the “safety” of the other members. So not only were my parents hearing of me being with another guy for the first time, but they were also hearing a darker, false story about me.

‘I burst into tears, my mum hugs me, my dad is furious. And then he says that the board of committees has said I should leave the club.

‘I had never felt so betrayed and hurt but those I loved the most. And now I had no safe haven. We all quit the club in anger and disappointment and haven’t looked back since. I had never felt so alone before. All because of a rumor.’

D – IT Manager | Belgian

D is an IT manager in Belgium
D is an IT manager in Belgium (Photo: Tiberiu Căpudean)

‘When I was living at home with my parents, I was working night shifts at the local bakery. It wasn’t uncommon to pass by a local cruising area before driving to work.

‘Three days after I came out to my parents, I drove back home and went to sleep in the early morning, only to have my mother walking in my room acting all freaked out. “Who did you tell you’re that way?”

‘I didn’t get what was going on but turned out somebody vandalized my car while I was cruising and keyed the word “homo” on the hood of my car.

‘Mom thought a “friend” might’ve been mocking me. At first I was annoyed, but I quickly got over it and left the car as it is. I took it as a badge of honor. Fuck the haters.’

See also

HIV positive men undress to raise awareness about ageing with the virus