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
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: Shemuscle
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.
you weren't pitching to the magazines that covered Better Bodies, such as
Vogue and Elle?
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
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.
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?
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
Brian Moss: Bodybuilding, USA (Chris
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!
here for page three
images copyright © 2003 Brian Moss. Used with permission.