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MODERN AMAZONS – The Art of Aesthetic Female Muscle


MODERN AMAZONS – The Art of Aesthetic Female Muscle

July 21, 2019  |  by Bill Dobbins
By Bill Dobbins
Modern-Amazons-cover002 copy
MODERN AMAZONS, Taschen 2002. Here is a link to YouTube video on the book.  Photos by Bill Dobbins
As with most experienced photographers, over the years I have pointed my camera lens at a wide variety of subjects.  I started out wanting to be a Cartier-Bressontype photojournalist and gradually learned to shoot color as well as BW and in the studio with lights with teams of models, stylists, make up artists and – last but not least – art directors.
THE WOMEN: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders. Artisan, 1994. Photos by Bill Dobbins
But the saying goes that life is what happens to you when you are making the plans.  Back in the 1970s, I moved into a house four doors down from the original Gold’s Gym – the gym featured in the book and movie Pumping Iron.  Naively, I decide to join the gym, not realizing it was full of the best bodybuilders in the world and I would be the only “pencil neck” on the gym floor.  It was like the scene from Fantasia where tiny little mammals scurry around trying not to get stepped on by huge dinosaurs.
Me and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the mid 1970s. Me at my biggest, Arnold at his smallest. Arnold wrote the introduction to my book THE WOMEN.
It was a small gym and I would keep my eye on various pieces of e equipment and would jump in when it looked like none of the big guys was going to use them.  They tolerated my being there as long as I didn’t get in the way.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the gym most days and I later wrote an article for Flex Magazine – of which I was the Founding Editor – called “Excuse me, Arnold – Mind if I work in?”
Prejudging at the first Ms. Olympia in 1980. It takes many years to develop a modern pro bodybuilding physique. These women were all relative beginners.
Rachel_McLish-g3 (2)
Rachel McLish was the first Ms. Olympia and was so attractive and promotable that she helped get the sport off to a great start.
Anyway, I was working for KFWB News Radio at the time and the gym owner asked me to help promote the gym.  This got me more involved with Gold’s, publisher Joe Weider asked me to start Flex Magazine and I ended up writing three books with Arnold for Simon & Schuster.
Starting in the late 1970s, a new phenomenon emerged in the world of muscle competition: female bodybuilding.  The women back then were less developed than you’ll see nowadays in something like Fit Bikini Contests, but it was the first time a group of women got together and worked on developing their muscles for primarily aesthetic purposes.  Pumping Iron author Charles Gaines called this “A new archetype,” something never before seen in any culture at any time or place in history.
A book promotion appearance for MODERN AMAZONS. Publicity is a lot easier when models like this are available.
Younger readers won’t remember a time when there was no such thing as bodybuilding for women but in historic terms, these women have only existed for a relatively short time.  They were so comparatively small and “cute” back then that they tended to be well received.  But as soon as they began to actually look like bodybuilders and started shattering cultural and gender norms, a lot of opposition to what they were doing developed.  These women challenged so many ideas about the female body, femininity, and gender identity that opposition could become very intense – including among the officials and judges of the various federations in charge of muscle competition.
Physical beauty along with aesthetic muscular development is required for a truly top female bodybuilder. Such as is obvious here with Austrian Beate Draebing.
Canadian Native American Sharon Bruneau was a fashion model turned bodybuilder, which shows in her long, lean and shapely physique.
When champion bodybuilder Anja Langer from Germany came into the room people reacted as they would to a major movie star.
But in my view, women and men both compete in a variety of sports and at that point the same was true of bodybuilding, so covering them in Flex Magazine and in Muscle & Fitness was a no-brainer.  I began doing extensive photographic coverage of these women and also to develop a portfolio of fine art images.  I saw them as examples of the kind of physical sculpture we have seen with men since the time of the Ancient Greeks.  Only now for the first time women were developing the same kind of physical conformation.
Lenda Murray OLympia Stage-
Lenda Murray was 8 time Ms. Olympia and remains to this day one of the most popular female bodybuilders in the sport.
Lenda Murrayl, 8-time Ms. Olympia
Lenda Murray started out to be a pro football cheerleader. But after years of track competition, her legs was just too big. So she turned to bodybuilding – very successfully. Photo by Bill Dobbins
In 1994 Artisan published a book of my photos called THE WOMEN: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders.  The book sold more than 40,000 copies, was one of the best-selling photo books of the year and got great publicity, including an hour on the Geraldo Rivera TV show.  
Subsequently, my photos were featured in a noted gallery in Santa Monica at Bergamot Station.  Publisher Bendikt Taschen saw my work and contacted be about having a book done by Taschen Publications.  The result was MODERN AMAZONS. My fine art photos are  currently represented by the Artists Corner Gallery in Beverly Hills.
Bill Dobbins + LA_MIAMI ART by AC Gallery
My fine art photos are currently represented by the Artists Corner Gallery in Beverly Hills.  Some of my art art can be seen a
Bodybuilding is about aesthetic development not size. Dayana Cadau won two Lightweight Ms. Olympia titles at 128 and 123 pounds. Great thing, small package.
Big muscles are necessary in bodybuilding. But developing sculptural detail and definition is what the best competitors are looking to achieve. I sometimes think of shooting these bodies as landscape photography, not unlike what Ansel Adams work was all about. Model: Isabelle Turrel.
Unfortunately, while sales were robust in Europe and Japan, at this point Taschen moved its American headquarters from New York to Los Angeles and there was almost no US publicity and no book tour.  This resulted in limited sales.  But Taschen tells me the book is considered a cult classic and copies of it frequently sell for quite a bit of money.
Bodybuilding competition is about comparing physiques and make evaluations. As a photographer, I look for the artistic excellence of each individual.
Even nowadays women bodybuilders still create quite a lot of controversy, in the culture and even in the world of muscle completion – where the discrimination against them is so obvious I wonder where feminists and the National Organization for Women are when it comes to defining them.  Evidently, NOW believes women should have the right to be doctors and lawyers and receive equal pay for equal work and receive equal treatment if they are soccer players – but this equality doesn’t extend to women in the sport of bodybuilding.
Since MODERN AMAZONS was published, there is a new organization called Wings of Strength dedicated to promoting pro bodybuilding for women which has given new life to the sport.
In any event, MODERN AMAZONS exists to show what the development of female bodybuilders was in the early 2000s.  And I live surrounded by a multitude of file cabinets and hard drives that contain the most extensive photo archive of aesthetic female muscle in the world – perhaps close to a million images.  I am convinced that my photos will eventually constitute the primary visual record of the development of these new and revolutionary female bodies.
By the way, MODERN AMAZONS is long out of print but I still have a carton of brand new copies for anyone interested. NOTE: There are a lot of artistic nudes in both of my photo books.  Since Samy’s Camera is a family-friendly organization, you’ll have to find examples of these elsewhere. ******************************************************* Bill Dobbins Sarah Lyons dressing room-SMALL-1 Bill Dobbins is a professional photographer, videographer and writer based in Los Angeles.  His work has been exhibited as fine art in two museums, a number of galleries, and he has published eight books, including two fine art photo books: The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan) Modern Amazons (Taschen)
Valentina Chepiga, originally from Ukraine, continues the tradition of bodybuilders pictured in the golden California sunshine that began back in the 1960s with Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder magazine.
Dutch bodybuilder Juliette Bergmann has a small frame and had retired from competition until the IFBB added a lightweight class to Ms. Olympia. Juliette returned to win the title. Photo by Bill Dobbins.
Many of my most popular photos, such as this shot of Yaxeni Oriquen, were shot on location in desert and mountain locations.
Alina Popa is the Wings of Strength RISING PHOENIX World Champion for 2018. WOS has given new life to pro bodybuilding for women. Look for photos of women like Alina in my NEXT book. Photo by Bill Dobbins.
July 21, 2019

About the Author

Bill Dobbins

Bill Dobbins

Bill Dobbins THE BODY PHOTOGAPHER became well known for his male and female physique photos - images of the aesthetic, athletic body. Using the same distinctive personal style, characterized by strong graphics and a classic look in both color and BW, Bill Dobbins has also developed a body of work featuring fashion, beauty and glamor photos In a world in which so many images create a level of "noise" that makes it hard for advertisers to be noticed, Bill's work cuts right through the confusion and grabs the eye. Bill has created two art photos books: The Women: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan) and Modern Amazons (Taschen) and his fine art work has appeared in two museums and several galleries. WEBSITES BILL DOBBINS PHOTOGRAPHY BILL DOBBINS ART THE FEMALE PHYSIQUE WEBZINE/GALLERY EMAIL:

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