Assignment 3 Tutor Suggested References

Martin Schoeller:

I had actually come across some of these images while searching the internet for some to compare my experience.  I wasn’t sure if he was a recognised photographer or not.  His work covers the extreme end of women’s bodybuilding and there is a tension in the work between the supermuscular bodies and the female faces at the top. He does portraits of the women from mid torso upwards, taking in the tops of their arms and more importantly the fact that they are wearing bikini tops which is the first indication that this is a female body rather than a man’s.  The torso is highly muscled and darkly tanned, often with prominent veins so the eye roves this to make sense of it before moving up to the face and eyes.  Each subject engages directly with the camera, sometimes with a smile and this is where the viewer questions what they are seeing as the faces are female with make-up and long hair.  The images are unsettling but also make you marvel at the work involved in getting to this stage in body development.  His work does make you look at your own response to the image of a woman who to all intents and purposes looks male, and how society conditions us to react when they do not correspond to what we expect. There is also the expectation that they will still try be attractive as women ‘should’ be by having heavy make-up and jewellery as well as sparkly ornate bikinis.  I found it interesting to see my reaction to them too, I found them unnerving and was disappointed that I could not see the beauty in them.  There was a disproportion to them, with huge bodies and tiny heads.  In my defence, I would think and feel the same about males who were similar in size.  I suppose that makes me the archetypal person who thinks it is ok as long as it is within reasonable limits.



Tanya Habjouqa “Fragile Monsters”

This work was much more interesting because it was not just a series of portraits that were all the same.  This was more reportage style as she captured the men backstage preparing to compete so there were more candid shots rather than posed pictures.  The competitiveness is very evident with sideways glances, something that I observed when I attended the competitions that Kelley was in and there was a break.  All the competitors came outside to be re-tanned, tidied up, or just practice and talk with family and friends.  It was interesting to see that a lot of them kept to themselves while others gathered in groups.  You could tell them in the coffee shop as they were the crowd that wore tracksuits and were unnaturally dark brown!  In her series, Habjouqa captured the nuances of their relationships and gave some idea of the mental and physical lengths that these men will go to in order to get the physique that they desire. The difference with this set of images was also that the men looked small and were not over-trained, even in the larger categories.   There was a lot of pathos about the competition and what they were doing, it made them more human.


Both photographers were interesting and I could appreciate the portraits but preferred the reportage series as it tapped into the human aspect of it, that these were men with families and friends.  The portraits were strangely detached and difficult to connect with, for reasons I have given above.  It is a fascinating subject and while I am slightly repulsed by it, I am also drawn to it to understand why they do this, the psychology of bodybuilding.



Assignment 3 Research

It was not easy to find photographers who have done studies of bodybuilding or even name any well know bodybuilders so I began by looking for images of Arnold Schwarzenegger who I remembered was famous in the late 1970s and 1980s.  I was surprised to see that Elliot Erwitt had done a few photographs of him in 1976 and 1977, one of which was a pose of him doing the classic Mr Universe at a performance:

USA. New York City. February 25, 1976. Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER during the performance series, “Articulate Muscle: The Male Body in Art” at the Whitney Museum.

This image is of Schwarzenegger in the spotlight surrounded by the shadowed audience, and he is flexing muscles but his face cannot be seen.  It is more a performance than a competition but was interesting to see how Erwitt had captured him while posing.  Erwitt also shot Schwarzenegger in more relaxed poses in the same series.

Another Magnum photographer who did a series on Schwarzenegger is Thomas Hoepker. He did a series on Schwarzenegger in 1977 when the film “Pumping Iron” was released.  There were images of Schwarzenegger in the gym while others looked on as well as at the beach in a more relaxed situation.  The black and white images of him flexing his biceps have a kind of beauty to it when seen framed by a simple black background.

USA. Los Angeles. 1977. Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER flexing his biceps.

I like to think that this is something that I had in mind when I was trying out the merges of Kelley with various vegetables.  There is a simplicity that makes the pose and person interesting.

Searches for ‘female bodybuilders’ brought up the extreme end of the sport with hypermuscular women that, to me, had gone beyond a natural point.  I read a couple of articles that dealt with the challenge to the perceptions of female bodybuilders and how there is a point at which it severely challenges the general view of femininity as it also challenges the patriarchal view and what is ‘male’.  Muscles are synonymous with strength and while some strength is to be encouraged, once the female body is very muscled

“Emerging in popular culture media is a new fit body ideal that have suggested as a possible shift in the conception of femininity and attractiveness (George 323). The current ideal physique for women celebrates muscle in moderation but embodying too much muscle is still heavily “contested ideological terrain” (Messner 198). Rather than celebrating the gains that female bodybuilders have achieved in the male-dominated arena of sports, women continue to apologize through displaying emphasized and often hypersexualized femininity. “

From: Marginalized Muscle: Transgression and the Female Bodybuilder (Article)
Victoria Felkar.  Felkar writes as a hypermuscular bodybuilder.








Research for work for Assignment 2

When I was considering ideas for Assignment 2, I had in mind the polaroids of David Hockney that I had seen at the exhibition at the Tate in London in April.  I really enjoyed that exhibition as the paintings were huge and colourful and playful, and it struck me that you have to be a very accomplished artist to be able to simplify something as he does while remaining still very artistic.  More interesting was his use of photography to make montages or composites, portraits and landscapes from quite small to huge landscapes that fill a wall.  The montages appeared to stretch the subject, but could have a more painting type effect or an interesting takes on a portrait that could be multiple layers of images.  With the polaroids, he took the individual and sliced them up by taking polaroid shots of parts of them, working in a methodical manner so that it builds up a whole portrait like a jigsaw.  There is, however, a disjointedness to them when looked at closely as each one can almost miss the part he is capturing but looked at from afar, there is the whole looking back.

Using varying numbers of Polaroid snaps or photolab-prints of a single subject Hockney arranged a patchwork to make a composite image. One of his first photomontages was of his mother. Because these photographs are taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times, the result is work that has an affinity with Cubism, which was one of Hockney’s major aims – discussing the way human vision works.

(  (6.12.17))

I’m not sure why I found these so interesting.  I remember Polaroid cameras and photos from when I was a child so there is an element of nostalgia for the medium.  Perhaps is it exactly as outlined above, that they question the way that we look.  Hockney apparently is concerned with looking as are most artists, and this way of working dissects the total frame into sections so that the eye roves over it without stopping in order to find the whole.  There is a symmetry to the images as the edges of the portraits are squared off to form the usual boundary of a frame.  It is also a flow of time as there are subtle movements between frames and nothing is completely static.  It is how we look and move, never looking at one thing for any length of time until we are looking closely for something.

Gregory Swimming Los Angeles March 31st 1982 (link above) was the image that really caught my eye at the time with its colour and sense of movement.  120 polaroids and there is a movement that flows with the body moving through the water.  I think it is this that interested me and I wanted to explore his work a bit more, even maybe a replicate it a little.

Nicholas Wilder Studying Picasso, Los Angeles” 24th March 1982, composite polaroid, 48 1/2 x 26 1/2

Coming to the portrait section of the assignment, I was looking at Hockney’s images and trying to get a feel for how I could attempt to use this approach in a way that would make it more mine than his.  Hockney did another type of montage where he overlapped the prints and spread them out to make another picture, often with patches of bare paper.  I found the way that he took the emphasis away from the face and created a distorted perspective a starting point as I thought about what defines a portrait.  Is is the whole of a person facing the camera or can it be parts that make up the whole.  I followed this by looking at other works of his in this vein:

“Photographing Annie Leibovittz While She Is Photographing Me, Mojave Desert”  Feb 1983, photogrphic collage, edition 4, 25 7/8 x 61 3/4

Interesting that something so sparse can be so powerful.  The simple ideas are often the better ones for that reason.  I know that I can overthink an idea so that it gets beyond me, which is what happened with Assignment 2 and despite my best intentions to be more creative myself, it did not work out that way.

The other artist that I looked at was Nadav Kander.  I had seen him do a talk at the Photography Show in Birmingham in March 2017 and had admired his work particularly his portraits after reading an article about him working with David Beckham over a number of years.  He had captured Beckham with his growing number of tattoos, something of great interest to me as I am fascinated by people’s decision to cover their bodies with tattoos and the tattoos themselves.  Again, he had approached the portrait from a different angle and did a 16 box grid of Beckham’s top half using close ups and varying distances from the camera.  It was black and white which enhanced the dark ink of the tattoos on his body and took away any distraction from backgrounds.

“David Beckham, 16 Pictures”, Nadav Kander, 2015

There is a connection between the photographer and the subject, with a willingness to show off his body art.  I think that this is what i was trying to achieve by taking photographs of Barney and his tattoos, as well as the Hockney idea of lots of photos of parts of him.  The image below was another that was interesting because it is a portrait but of someone’s hands. Nine black and white images in a grid showing closeup and full hands and fingers.  It tells a story without having a body or face to add any information and therefore the viewer is left to make a story based on what is in the images.

David Millar (Hand Repeat), Nadav Kander, 2015


Two very influential photographers and artists, and I would have liked to have brought a little of their magic to my work, but I am still a long way off.  However, we all start somewhere and this will be in my  mind each time I think about this assignment, and revisit it eventually.