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Bodybuilder Photos

CK: During the Better Bodies period, you were not taking pictures. So was there something that you were perceiving or looking at that led you to want to photograph the human body?

Brian Moss: I think I always had an aesthetic in everything that I did: how I dress, what my truck looked like, what my house looked like. Aesthetic is really important to me. So, I wasn't thinking through a view finder as I looked around the world. There is always an aesthetic awareness in my eyes. Also, I had been around many photo shoots because my gym was used by all the magazines after the big shows. In the early 80s, my girlfriend, Gladys Portugues, was a really prominent female bodybuilder and was on the cover of every magazine. So, I was witness to all of her photo shoots. She's actually married to Jean-Claude Van Damme, but that's a whole other interview!

So, whether through osmosis or what I had going on before that, it was there, although I didn't know that it would be that fully articulated once I picked up a camera. There wasn't a learning curve. I felt it instantly once I looked through a camera.

About shooting bodies though, it sounds silly but my first take at it was of a custom Harley motorcycle I owned that was different aesthetically. I knew in my heart it should be in a magazine. And I also knew how magazines worked from my dealings with the magazines through the sport. I knew they're understaffed, underpaid, and the more you deliver to them, the easier it is to get into the magazine. So, I took it upon myself to choose a cool location, hire a naked girl, take the pictures, send the film with the story and off we go. How could the editor say no? I don't even remember how I found the naked girl, but anyway I took pictures of her and the bike and I liked the feeling of it. Then, I moved the bike and I was taking pictures of her and I liked the thought of taking pictures of a naked body.

Everybody laughed around me because they thought what a great way to get a girl naked. But then when they saw the pictures, they took it back. They realized that I was quite serious about it. That it wasn't just prurient. You could claim a little of that, but yet one doesn't exclude the other. It could be prurient, but it could also be quite beautiful, compelling or artful.

Brian Moss: She Muscle
Brian Moss: Shemuscle


CK: What kind of camera were you using?

Brian Moss: It was a little Olympus point and shoot—further evidence that it isn't about the equipment, which is something I have always maintained. It is to a certain degree, but I'd like to think that anybody that has something to say can take a Polaroid or anything and take a compelling photograph. So, from those pictures, I took pictures of other normal-bodied women, thinking all the while that I could take pictures of fit women and maybe show those to the magazines. I remember though that when I showed the pictures of the normal-bodied women to the editor of the fitness magazine he didn't have the vision that if I could shoot a normal woman that way, clearly I could shoot a fit woman that way. But the fit women had vision. When I showed them the pictures they went, "Wow ! I'll shoot with you". Now mind you, I was a gym owner, I wasn't a photographer. They knew me as a gym owner, yet they were willing to take a chance, cause they just saw a different vision. And then you just gain critical mass. When you start shooting Sharon Bruneau, Ericca Kern. Women that people knew. Then the editors took note and that's how I got my first commission from Muscle & Fitness.

CK: So, you weren't pitching to the magazines that covered Better Bodies, such as Vogue and Elle?

Brian Moss:
				
				 Bodybuilding USA
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA

Brian Moss: Right, cause I never considered those magazines quite my world. I was happy to have the publicity from them. But that wasn't my world. I wouldn't be bringing anything too different to Vogue and those people. I felt that in my world, the bodybuilding world, there was a lack of talent and I had a different vision. I had one leg up on everybody. That's what I felt made me competitive. Going into a world that was very derivitive and not particularly creative and here is me, a little creative, not a genius, but I look much smarter if I go to that world and say, well, "Look at how I see these women."

CK: I understand your discretion and reticence vis-à-vis the industry in which you work, but the fact remains that there doesn't seem to be a great deal of evolution in terms of the aesthetic vision of photographing bodybuilders. In 2003, one is still looking at the rather cheesy images with the forced, chimpanzee-like grins and the contest look. The kitsch is phenomenal, and I think that you would agree that this is not even fun kitsch. Technically, there are good photographers in that world, but visibly there is a convention that is followed almost religiously about how one shoots bodybuilders and presents them—an almost religious fundamentalism about how they must be presented to the public.... So, as a photographer who is interested in art photography in this milieu how do you work within what appears to be such a very rigid formula and convention?

Brian Moss:... There has been a convention, and any attempt at being different is purely derivative. I think that it might be changing, only because within the last month I got a call from Muscle & Fitness' new team saying, "we looked at our "work-out" archives, [and] they're dated". Which is correct. They are dated. And they may have seen what I have done for the Animal Pak vitamin campaign which is this very reportage-style training, black and white, not overly lit. And they have just said to me... that they would like to update our files with [my] style. So, maybe there could be a bit of a change in the future... and if they do what they say and have me update them, the features and photography might take on a different look, rather than the forced faces, the grin, the grunts...you know..all those things...wow....really shallow.

CK: Why are the photographs of the women so unflattering? Anybody attracted to beautiful women would hardly find most female bodybuilder images sexy or appealing. They too look corny and dated.

Brian Moss: ...It sort of makes sense. After all, that is how the men are being shot. So why should we expect anything different for the women?

CK: How have you managed to work within such a rigid convention?

Brian Moss: By always showing them something different, a variation on what they are used to. Although, I admit that I never got the big lingerie issue....

CK:Why not?

Brian Moss:
				
				 Bodybuilding USA
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA (Chris Cormier)

Brian Moss: I wish I had an answer because I would love to shoot that.... I am hoping that in the future the magazines would come to me for that, instead of going to that "stripper" vibe. Not that I have anything against "stripper" vibe but it's not even good stripper vibe. It doesn't have a heart beat...no pulse. It's incredible because what could be more titillating than those bodies? Hopefully, the future might be different. Perhaps because although I am from their world, I am not from their world as a photographer. I am a gym owner, I worked out, I dated those people. I am an amalgam of things. Perhaps all of that has to sublimate itself into an interesting conflulence of things in a visual way. As a photographer, I am sort of an insider-outsider.... It might serve the industry well to go to somebody that knows nothing about the industry, but knows about beauty, or how to photograph men and women in a compelling, interesting, provocative way, non-derivative way. How cool would that be!

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All images copyright © 2003 Brian Moss. Used with permission.

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