CK: When we first spoke,
you said that you considered the work of Helmut Newton "fetishistic" and that
you had a different vision. Germany's Stern magazine, which recently
published a portfolio of yours, described your work as "voyeuristic". Would you
Brian Moss: As a voyeur, you are not projecting anything on to what you
are shooting. Hopefully, you are just there documenting what you are shooting.
I like to think that is what I am doing.
CK: It was my
understanding that for some people muscle was a fetish. Wouldn't there be a
link to this fetish in your case?
Moss:Oh, I don't argue that. Muscle is a huge fetish. No doubt about
it. People fetishize muscle as we speak: men, women, men on women, men on men,
every which way, no doubt about it.
CK:As a photographer, why do you think that
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA (Markus
Brian Moss: Only our
therapist could tell us that. Why do any of us fetishize anything? Clearly,
there is some connection to something deep in our souls, very early in our
lives. I don't know why people fetishize muscles, both men and women. I know of
men who have sessions with women. And I know that what they ask for are things
which relate to infantalism, domination, muscle worship, and maybe those are
some unresolved childhood issues. Those are complicated answers that I do not
have. Clearly both sexes fetishize the muscle. It's a big subculture.
CK: When you are
photographing male and female bodybuilders, what are you thinking about as a
photographer and an artist. Manifestly, these enormous bodies are a medium for
you to express yourself. Why these enormous bodies, why this genre?
Brian Moss: It's a natural progression of
everything that I have done at this point. Obviously I come from that world.
CK: A bit
like a writer, writing about what he knows best?
Brian Moss: I am
really comfortable moving around in that world. Because of all the years put
in, there is an immediate respect and trust from professional bodybuilders that
ordinary people could never get. I never betray that trust. They know me. I
remember once with Jay Cutler as I was starting to shoot him backstage. He
looked over at me and said, "Hey, I know you. You are the photographer that
never says anything". To me, that is a compliment. I don't want to say anything
to you, if you are doing what you are doing. Because they are so used to "hey
Jay, over here", thumbs up, or victory signs etc. to get their attention for a
shot. All of the professional bodybuilders know me, so I can move around
invisibly. And what greater thing for a photographer: to move around invisibly
back there and really try to capture what is going on back there. Not creating
it...I don't mind creating moments, but when I am shooting back stage
photography, I don't want to be part of the news. I just want to be a voyeur so
that I can be a vehicle to show you, the viewer, what's going on back there.
Because you just don't get to see it. Ordinarily, you only see a moment created
by the camera. When people do a thumbs up, they wouldn't be doing that if the
camera wasn't there. The camera creates that moment. I am not interested in
that monent. I want the moment in between those moments—the moments the
camera is ignoring.
Is access to backstage at Mr. Olympia and other
leading bodyubuilding contests difficult? What is it that is so special beyond
the tension, carbohydrate depletion etc. that is the result of the rigourous
dieting for contests? You said the men could be "bitchy". What do you see and
that of your camera when you see these men and women in this condition?
Brian Moss: The tension and energy
certainly, but there is also pathos, sadness, adulation, many things that are
all mixed up in this one moment backstage, and it is being aware of what it is
that you are seeing and knowing when to step up, when to step back, when to
acknowledge, when not to acknowledge—being totally on the same page as the
bodybuilders so that you can move freely and shoot freely. First, I am aware of
the moment of what's happening—something that I should be documenting. If
it is the end of the show, I know what is going to happen, where the winner is
going to go and I'll want to be there. If it is before the show, I know where
to find the guys when they are just resting. So, I am first thinking about
where the moments are and then it is a matter of trying to find those defining
CK: In several of your pictures, once you can make
abstraction of the enormity of the male bodybuilders in particular, suddenly
one is aware of existential drama. Why is that?
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA
Brian Moss: I don't
know. I am attracted to the abstraction of their body. I like the fact that
they are monumental. It's interesting to take those bodies and create and at
the same time it's quite literal. If you step back and you figure it out that
this a trapezius or a tricep muscle. It's amazing and almost unbelieveable that
it is a human body. People generally do not have the opportunity to be that
close to those bodies. There's no describing it. I like the abstraction.
Through that, I find composition—which interests me a great deal. I am
thinking composition as I am shooting. In 99.9% of my shots that you have seen
there is no cropping. ... I am proud of the fact that I am composing on the
fly. I feel like I am living on the edge. I am not doing it in a darkroom, or
with photoshop. I am finding it 100% full frame, right there. I am very aware
of my composition and my relationship to the bodybuilder and what I have to do,
or if I have to move to get a strongly-composed shot. I think that could be why
the pictures have a different feeling—because I don't know how many other
people are thinking that. Perhaps that is the difference between news
photography, or straight reportage, just grabbing shots. I think that I
am doing that. I think that I am telling that same story, but I think that I am
telling it in an artful way. To me, being aware of composition is artful.
CK: The German
photographer August Sander and later Diane Arbus in America were also
interested in subsets of humanity. Do you have an affinity for their work?
Brian Moss: I do. I like marginalized. I
like side shows and carnivals. I collect carnival art, artifacts and
memorablilia. August Sander I am a little less knowledgeable about his work. I
know it's street portraiture. Diane Arbus, I know of course. I read the big
feature in the New York Times the other day about the show in San
Francisco. It was a fascinating article. I love that school of photography. But
at the same time, I love the snap shot school of photography. That sort of
makes sense, since my pictures have that sort of feeling like Garry Winogrand
or Larry Fink.
CK: You seem to be concerned less with social
Brian Moss: Yeah,
people might read into my work what they choose, but I would be lying if I said
that I had some greater vision about making social commentary about
bodybuilders. Maybe it does represent something visually for somebody, but I
don't think that it represents in any great way like it does for Diane Arbus
and others that had a social conscience about their photography. I don't know
that mine has yet.
Is there a difference for you, even unconsciously,
when shooting male bodybuilders as opposed to female bodybuilders?
Brian Moss: I don't think so, though men give
me more to work with. There's just so much more tension with the men for better
or for worse. Women seem a little more even-keeled. It just doesn't feel as
explosive when I shoot the women. With the men it feels like a powder keg
sometimes. I kind of like that.
CK: Can you tell us something about the
bodybuilder with the umbrella pictures? Was this a series?
Brian Moss:Bodybuilding,USA (Ronnie
Brian Moss: It was
supposed to be a series. The first one in New York which you're referencing and
the second: Ernie visits LA.... But with the change of people at Wieder I don't
know what will happen with that. That actually started as a very derivative
assignment: Take a bodybuilder to landmarks in New York and shoot. And I came
up with the idea: Ernie Taylor's from the UK... He's sort of a tourist. So, I
had this tourist idea: What if he walked out the side stage door after the show
and just visited the sites as the bodybuilder he was the night before. To that
end, I came up with the idea that I would just style him accordingly. That
series actually started the night of the show (Night of Champions).... I tend
to have to tell a story from beginning to end. For me, the beginning was Ernie
at the show. So, I shot Ernie at the show, backstage as I would other
bodybuilders. But then it took on this interesting turn. He didn't literally
walk out the back door. The emotional context I was giving him was: the show's
over, you've got your trunks on, you've got your posing number, you've got your
flip flops, you've got your little bag, let's go. The umbrella was obviously a
response to the weather. I wasn't counting on the rain. I had to really lobby
Ernie to do it, because it was chilly and you know they're dead tired after a
show. I promised him that it would be worth it and it's really going to be
cool.... I had scouted four or five locations that I felt spoke of New York.
One was the Empire State Building, one was the Twin Towers which I have
pictures of, one was the big bull on Wall Street, Times Square. Places that
people would clearly associate with New York. Ironically, the Flatiron building
was not on my shot list from the night before. But when I was driving the motor
home down Fifth Avenue to do the Empire State Building shot, I realized that I
couldn't see the building because of the fog and the shot would never work. So,
I stopped at the Flatiron building and decided to take a shot.... And as he was
standing there, it suddenly dawned on me and i said, "Ernie, step out, hail a
taxi, let's see". And he stepped out and I remember saying, "lean into it
Ernie". I wanted a little tension in his leg.... You have to be a New
Yorker—you just go after it. So, you can actually see his foot is up and
that's sort of critical for the shot.... There is something magical about that
heel up in the air. A taxi actually stopped and there were tourists in the back
with cameras. I would have loved to see their pictures. And that was it. We got
the shot and he came back in.
And the second shot with the man passing by?
Brian Moss: That was Central Park. As a
New Yorker, Central Park is a shot. Again, there was fog but it worked for me.
The fog was great. You could see that it was a park. It was raining and there
was some kind of running event and I happened to find a tent that I could stay
out of the weather with and I just set Ernie against the fence. And very often
when I am shooting in public like that, I like the public to walk in front of
the frame. They are conditioned to stop and walk around it, so I actually have
to tell my assistant to tell them it's okay. It's a questions of timing. I
think that I have good timing with a shutter, In this case, out of one eye, I
could see this guy coming and I thought, here is a cool moment
when you look at this image, what is the narrative that comes to
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA (Ernie
Brian Moss: You
could probably look at this image and think Ernie versus the working man, this
Willy Loman. Or, you could say, that he didn't even flinch, this Willy Loman.
Here is this half-naked 260 lb-muscular guy holding an umbrella and he never
looked to the left, nor to the right, A New Yorker. We've seen it all.
CK: What about
the Markus Rühl picture? Was it a surprise for you?
Brian Moss: Yes. Had I shot the frame five
seconds after his legs came down, it would have been ordinary. When I saw his
legs up in the frame, I knew I had it, but I did not know the power that it
would have. That's the difference in that shot.
CK: What is the physical condition of the
bodybuilders during your shoots?
Brian Moss: I've
never met a spry bodybuilder backstage. What they say is that if you feel good
you're not in shape. That you're tired is a good sign. It means that you are in
great shape. You shouldn't have energy. They are usually carbohydrate depleted,
a lot of them don't take in fluids, some are on distilled water for days and
therefore most are at the end of their rope. Carbs are the big ones. It's hard
to function without carbs. You need them to function...your brain etc. It's
hard to go zero carbs for one day let alone days or weeks, although it's very
individual. Everybody has a different take depending on their metabolism. It's
quite a science really. The point is your exhausted. Then the pressure of the
contest and then the posing drains you. Anybody who thinks it's easy to pose
all day like those guys, just try it and see how sore you will be the next day.
It's incredible. They are absolutely drained. And when they're back stage it's
like they can turn the switch off. And! that's kind of what I am getting.. On
stage you couldn't quite tell because it would have to be up to the judges.
Backstage, nobody's looking, except me.
CK: Backstage images are
published regularly in bodybuilding magazines.
Brian Moss: The images you see are when they
[bodybuilders] think somebody is looking—camera goes up, they pose and
show: "I'm happy again". And that's why they look like that—because
they're on.... A bodybuilder sees a camera and they immediately go into it.
They don't even think about it. They know that's not what I want, so they don't
give me that. They go about their business. Sometimes at an amateur show...they
see my camera, they immediately go into a shot and it's almost like a throw
away. I take the shot so they think everything is okay. I don't want to go into
a whole dialogue with them about why I don't want that shot. I've learned it's
easier to take the shot. I'll keep shooting and then I'll get what I want. But
they still want me to take that first shot.
CK: What's the reaction of pro bodybuilders to
your work, specifically to the pictures that are not for magazine publication
but for exhibition in galleries and consideration by the art world?
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA (Orville
Brian Moss: I think
everybody loves it because it's honest. For the first time, I think that it is
able to convey what they know, what they experience, what they feel, what they
see. Even people who are peripheral to it and not professional bodybuilders,
but amateurs or others acquainted with backstage, the pictures resonate with
them because of their honesty.
CK: Anybody complain
about some of the less than flattering images?
Brian Moss: I have never received a complaint, but
this does not mean that somebody is not thinking something. I am not out to
hurt anybody. But as I edit for artful reasons, I am only thinking about a
great photograph, a good composition, something that speaks to me.
CK: What is your
personal relationship to your subjects?
Brain Moss :Bodybuilding, USA (Jay
Brian Moss: I know
them quite well. I have been in it long enough. I see them regularly on certain
occasions although I can't say that I phone everybody up and say, "how you
doin?". So, I don't think that I objectify them like Degas with his ballerinas
and treat them as disposable or interchangeable.... I wouldn't say that it's
intimate, but it's respectful. I could call them up and say "what's
happening?", but it's not like I hang out and have a beer with them every
Friday night either. There is also distance. I am out of New York. Most of this
[bodybuilding scene] seems to be Florida, Vegas and California. I guess if I
lived there, I would be socializing with them more, but I am sort of alone
CK: Other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is probably an
anomaly, are bodybuilders celebrities in America?
Brian Moss: Hmmmm...qualified celebrities, if you
pay attention to the sport or the magazines...surely celebrity status...worship
status.... But that's not quite mainstream. It is more its own community where
they are absolutely celebrities.
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All images copyright © 2003 Brian Moss. Used with