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Brian Moss: A Different Vision
Bodybuilders, Women During Sex and a Killer Clown

By Antoine du Rocher

NEW YORK, 24 December 2003 Photographer Brian Moss first came to the attention of the art world in an exhibition at New York's New Museum for Contemporary Art in 2000. Entitled, Picturing the Modern Amazon, the show focused on the representation of hyper-muscular and physically strong women in popular culture and contemporary art. Several of Moss' photographs of female bodybuilders figured along side work by Andres Serrano, Renée Cox among others. At a recent show in Manhattan's Chelsea district, the 46-year-old former Better Bodies Gym entrepreneur showed fifteen of his black and white photos of professional male bodybuilders, taken from his portfolio entitled Bodybuilding, USA.

At first glance, Moss' images of male bodybuilders seem closer in spirit to the awe-inspiring alabaster urns of Hellenist-period Etruscan art than the hackneyed muscle-magazine images associated with this sport, or the equally trite computer generated images from Hulk. A few photos delight with their wit and irony—consider this one, of a bodybuilder with an open umbrella, hailing a taxi in a posing suit and flip flops.

Most, however, shot in bleak, non-descript hotel rooms or backstage during bodybuilding competitions, shock not only because of the subject's muscular monumentality, but more importantly, because of their inherent existential drama and their eloquent commentary on the human condition. Brian Moss spoke to Culturekiosque about Bodybuilding, USA, Women During Sex, a collection of images that depict the moments before, during or after women's orgasms, and the conceptual series, Killer Clown.

Culturekiosque: Where do you come from in America?

Brian Moss: I was born and raised in New York on the upper West side of Manhattan.

CK: And your parents?

Brian Moss: Also from New York: Brooklyn and Queens. My father works in point of purchase advertising and my mother was a homemaker. Mother was a mother.

CK:Where were you at school?

Brian Moss:
				 untitled (Ernie Taylor)
Brian Moss: Untitled

Brian Moss: New York City Public School, followed by the High School of Music and Art. After that, Syracuse University. My degree is in wildlife biology. I was a National Park Ranger.

CK: How did you navigate from a specialized school in music and art to wildlife?

Brian Moss:I just always loved the outdoors.

CK: Wouldn't it have been logical to pursue your studies at a conservatory or fine arts academy?

Brian Moss: One would think. But I drew birds. I drew wildlife. I just knew that I wanted to be outdoors.... I worked in The National Park Service... I was what they called seasonal and as a seasonal employee, you had no benefits, no retirement. You just came back every season. So, I left the Park Service and I was hired by the Museum of Natural History and there I was involved with the education department. I taught school children.

CK: Did you like teaching?

Brian Moss: It was wonderful. But there is just no compensation for teachers unfortunately in this country. It is the most important job in the world, but to live in New York City, it was impossible to survive on what they paid.... And there was very little room for growth.

CK:What happened then?

Brian Moss: I left the museum to open up Better Bodies in 1982.

CK: You were training at this time?

Brian Moss:I probably thought I was a bodybuilder. I trained like a bodybuilder. But I think I had a pretty realistic assessment of my genetics. Like any young guy, I trained to look good. I was inspired by the magazines like any young kid.

CK: The muscle magazines?

Brian Moss:
				 Bodybuilding USA
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA

Brian Moss: Oh sure. The Weider magazines, Muscle Digest, Muscle & Fitness. All those inspired me.

CK: How did you go from personal trainer to gym entrepreneur?

Brian Moss: Probably out of ignorance. I knew nothing about business. I also knew from my father's input that it is best to be your own boss.... And then I just surveyed the scene in the early eighties and didn't understand why there wasn't (sic) coed gyms. Back then you had to train at a men's gym, a gay gym, to train hard. It was either that or a health club.

CK:There is a difference between a men's gym and a gay gym?

Brian Moss: Well Sort of. In the eighties they were one and the same. West Side Bodybuilding was, Sheridan Square was. They were considered gay gyms.... Straight communities wanted health clubs, whereas the gay community understood hard training. There was nothing fancy about those clubs. They were hard-core gyms. That is what attracted me to them.

And I did not understand why women could not train in those gyms.... They could be still predominantly gay—that's cool—but why just men? And that is what gave me the idea to open up a hard-core gym for men and women: Straight, gay, it didn't matter—as long as you were hard-core and wanted to train hard.

CK: How would you summarize your Better Bodies adventure?

Brian Moss: It was the most amazing ride. What a wonderful time to be in the gym world in the eighties—just beautiful. It was very pure. The people attracted to it were not led to it by a magazine article.... Clearly, I saw the trend. Although people insisted that I would never get women. Trust me, women didn't want the little dumbbells in the corner.... In the 80s it was pretty radical to say that women want to train alongside the 250 lb-guy. And they did. For a moment in time, I had more women than men as members. ...

CK: Your press book suggests that you were a favourite with the high-end style and womens' magazines such as Vogue and Elle.

Brian Moss:
				 Women During Sex
Brain Moss: Women During Sex

Brian Moss: Yeah, a lot of that came out of my work with Elite. Somehow or other I was found by Elite, the modeling agency. They called on me to get their girls in shape and that sort of started this whole publicity blitz. At that moment in time working out was hot. Models are hot. You put the two together and people want to know how do models get in shape. So, I was training those girls....

CK: Having sold it, do you miss Better Bodies?

Brian Moss: No, the bloom was off the bush. I fell out of love. I saw what was going on. The economics were changing. Independant or boutique clubs were being bought out by really big companies—publicly traded companines. I knew that I couldn't get into a pissing match with the big guys.... Also, the gym clientele became a microcosm of the world: You had all kinds...and not for the better. You had people stealing from lockers. I mean, my God, that horrified me. I never had a theft. Everybody started working out. For me, that wasn't a good thing. People came for all sorts of reasons: looking for dates, social reasons etc. Sure socialization happened, but not ahead of your workout.... In the 90s I am sure you remember the flood of articles: "Gyms, the new bars". Give me a break!

Today, clubs are more extreme. It reminds me of a drug addict needing more drugs to get a hit. Gyms have to push further and further to draw or hold a clientele. Now, it's live DJs, hyperbolic, oxygen-regulated chambers, strip classes. The public is not happy with just working out. They need one more goddamn gimmick after another. I never had gimmickery in what I did. It was so to-the-bone. I believe that is why it was effective. And the right people saw that. Sure, there is probably a huge population that wants gimmickry.... I just couldn't see myself hiring a DJ to play music for my members. Honestly, it's all about basics. After a while you realize that resistance is resistance, a dumbbell is a dumbbell. Granted some of the equipment has gotten more ergonomically correct so it's better on the joints. But at the end of the day, it's about squats, curls and presses and some derivative of that.

So, I don't miss it. And I never mourned it, which is evidence that it was truly the right decision to sell. Although I was defined by Better Bodies, I felt the time was right and I was lucky to find a buyer and not have to close my doors.

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

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