By Bill Dobbins

Hyper-muscular women present a new and very different aesthetic. They are as different from conventional female bodies as opera is from jazz or pop music. They are in effect the grand opera of the athletic body, striving to attain the extreme limit of aesthetic development. Model is Beate Draebing.
Green Couch
Lenda Murray has won 8 Ms. Olympia World Bodybuilding Championships. To many she represents the ideal blend of muscular development, symmetry and beauty.
A living piece of human sculpture with a statue. The aesthetics of each are highly similar. Model is bodybuilder Michelle Andrea.
Unfortunately, aesthetic female muscle has not been shielded from criticism during its short, turbulent history. Model is Marie Laure Mahabir.
Some female bodybuilders are also very strong powerlifters as well and develop the kind of muscle density you see here in Tazzie Colomb.


There are many different definition as to what constitutes “fine art.”  But my favorite involves look at art in terms off what it “does,” rather than what is “is.” Throughout history, especially before most people became literate, paintings and sculpture were designed to tell stories and educate viewers.  Nowadays, with so much media available, that purpose is largely the role of things like movies, TV and the Internet.

But what art can still “do” is change the consciousness, to illuminate and enlighten and to communicate new ideas and concepts.  And that is what I try to achieve with my fine art photos.

1. Art produced chiefly for its aesthetic value, as opposed to applied art

2. Also calledbeaux arts (often pluralany of the fields in which such art is produced, such as paintingsculpture, engraving and photography.

The oldest sculpture of the female body. The Venus of Wildendorf, estimated to have been made between about 28,000 and 25,000 BCE. found in 1908.
female sculpture
The ideal for female sculpture in ancient Greece was the goddess Venus – soft, round and voluptuous – as opposed to the athletic, muscular male.
No doubt when photography was introduced in 1839 some guy almost immediately convinced a model to pose without her clothes on. Some of these photos were done as fine art, but many not so much.

My primary subject for decades has been the aesthetically developed muscular female.  Charles Gains, author of Pumping Iron, calls these women a “new archetype” – something never before seen in any culture at any time in all of history.  There has been a lot of resistance to women with this kind of physique but that is not surprising.  When you have a 5000 year period of recorded history, where extreme muscularity is considered to be the exclusive attribute of the male, suddenly being confronted by this revolutionary kind of female body can be disturbing – in terms of a variety of things like gender identity, morphology, sexuality and the capabilities and limitations of women in general.

At various times history has favored various kinds of female bodies.  The classic ideal of the female body was based on the goddess Venus – soft, round and voluptuous.  Painter Peter Paul Rubens favored a very full-figured, voluptuous kind of body.  In the 20th century, the boyish and flat-chested flapper gave way to the busty pin-up girl.  But only rarely would the body of a female athlete such as swimmer Esther William be celebrated.

Peter Paul Rubens favored very full-figured fleshy women in his paintings. A long way from the “new archetype” of the lean and defined muscular women who are my subjects.
The ideal of the 1920s was the boyish, slim figured and flat chested body.
Actress Jane Russel in the 1940s helped usher in the current preoccupation with big breasts.  It is said director Howard Hughes invented an uplift bra to help emphasize her cleavage.

When I first began photographing aesthetically muscular women in the late 1970s there was a general acceptance of their bodies because they were so relatively undeveloped compared to what would happen when more of them were training with weights for longer periods of time.  Everybody loves kittens but not everyone likes cat.  So a backlash took place in just a few years and the women began facing opposition from family, friends, the public in general – and even from the federations that sanctioned and made the rules for their competitions/

A lot of these women were very attractive and sexy by almost any standard and a lot of photographers viewed them primarily in terms or eroticism and even fetish.  Powerful and muscular women are a common sexual fantasy.

A lot of my images have appealed to this type of fetish or fantasy but that kind of appeal was not my primary goal.  Instead, I saw these defined and muscular bodies as pieces of sculpture, such as we saw in ancient Greece or the work of Michelangelo.  I also treated their highly defined bodies as Ansel Adams would a dramatic landscape.  If the photos were also sexy then I decided this would help to get more viewers to look at them and come to accept that this kind of body might be “new under the sun” but was a perfectly acceptable type of female body.  Not a way women should look, but a way they could look.

Modern-Amazons-cover002 copy
The cover of my book MODERN AMAZONS, published by Taschen. Featuring bodybuilder Tatianna Butler.
THE WOMEN: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders, published by Artisan. Featured on cover Nikki Fuller.

My photos were published in a number of bodybuilding and fitness magazine over the years and in some more general publications in various places around the world.  I’ve been exhibited in two museums and a number of galleries and have had two fine art books published:  MODERN AMAZONS (Taschen) and THE WOMEN: Photographs of the Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan).  I have developed many thousands of fans around the world and you’ll find tens of thousands of links to me and my work when you do a Google search.

What I haven’t achieve is any serious recognition in the fine art world from galleries or, more important, from collectors.  In terms of the art market nowadays, the function of fine art photos is to hang on the wall and appreciate in value.  Collectors might or might not buy what they really like but they generally do buy works they think are a good investment.  Collectors have not always been like this.  When Gertrude Stein bought works by Picasso and Matisse the work of these geniuses did not have a lot of commercial value.  That came later.  The bought what she considered to be great art without regarding it as an investment.

Michelle Tuggle, Ozymandias, fine art, BW
“I am Ozymandias, king of kings. Look upon me all he might and despair.” Model is Michelle Tuggle.
Nude Against A Red Rock
A figure in the landscape. Featuring pro bodybuilder Brigita Brezovac.
The body as sculpture. In their best shape bodybuilders look like anatomy charts.  Model is bodybuilder Joanne Lee.
A dramatic nude set against a dramatic background – the Death Valley dunes. This is a photo in the tradition of Edward Weston. Model is Kerstin Schulze.
Women with fit, athletic bodies come in all sizes nowadays. They compete in bodybuilding, fitness, figure, physique and fit bikini. Genetics and intent determine the difference. Model is Angela Mraz.

Unfortunately, what most of the fans of my work are interested in buying is a signed 8.5 X 11 print of their favorite women for $10 or $15.  The idea of spending hundreds of dollars for a large, fine art print to frame and hang on the wall is outside the spectrum of their normal behavior.  Art experts have said that the value of art is what somebody is willing to pay for it.  According to that criterium, my photos don’t have much value.

The real collectors of fine art whose patronage helps to establish an artist in terms of the market, galleries and museums have yet to discover or invest in my work.

But I look a the short history of aesthetically muscular females and the huge impact these women have had on the culture as a whole – look at how muscular female athletes have become, how fit models and actresses have become and the fact that all over-forty movie stars seems to have personal trainers – and I am aware of how significant these females have been to our history.  So I think my photographers are not only important to understanding these period but as fine art also continue and extend the long tradition of examinations and depictions of the human body that date back well into pre-history.

Death Valley right after a very rare monsoon, with heavy overcast, standing water and flowering plants. The heaviest rain in 17 years. Model is Chris Bongiovanni.
Ready to make a sand angel. When shooting BW in very dull light one approach can be to go for very high contrast, making desert sand look more like snow. Model is Michelle Tuggle.

One great advantage of having a new kind of body to photograph is that everything you do is essentially new.  Photographers have been shooting the female body, and the female nude, since photography was invented in 1839.  In that time almost anything that could be done has been done.  In addition there is a long history of paintings and sculpture of the female body.  So it is difficult for any artist to come up with a new view of a subject that has been treated with such exhaustive thoroughness.

Salute to the desert. My approach to shooting nudes in a landscape is to make sure the landscape photo would also be excellent even without the figure in the foreground – unlike fashion images that generally blur out the background.  Model is Viviana Soldano.
Nude with rope. Using props allows for more graphic variation. Model is Annie Rivieccio, who has the muscular definition of a pro level bodybuilder.
The lady and the lion. Shooting aesthetically muscular women allows for drawing upon the entire history of artistic motifs.  Model is Sharon Bruneau, who was a fashion model before beginning a serious program of bodybuilding muscle development.
The body in this case seems like something growing organically in the scrub desert.

But all this changes when a new kind of body is introduced.  Every photograph of these extremely muscular women is almost by definition “new” – even though it might or might not be very artistic.  Plus it is possible to back into art history and model photos on outstanding images and motifs from the past and making them new because the bodies involves are so revolutionary different.

So I may have trouble attracting serious collectors, or even getting published in the diminishing number of magazines that still exist, but I have confidence my work will be appreciated for its artists and historical value some time in the future.  It is certainly possible to be too much ahead of your time and public acceptance and taste when it come to art.  But while what is successful art in the short term is determined almost exclusively by the “art market,” it is the culture as a whole that makes this determination in terms of history.

I won’t be around to see the outcome of this process.  But I keep producing work as if I would be.  A thing worth doing is worth doing for its own sake, not because of how it will be received by future generations.

A genuine thoroughbred. The stereotype is that muscle women are all bulky.  But dieted down and super lean their lines can be highly aesthetic.  Model is Amber Deluca.
BW studio nude. Shooting black and white focuses on the graphic qualities of the subject.  Color is a separate subject in itself.  Model is Marika Johannson.
Stocks unbounded. There is often a touch of fetish in female muscle art photos. Model is Joanne Lee.

This photo of bodybuilder Suzan Kaminga is a new interpretation of a pose and motif common in the history of art.
Body in the surf – shot in Oahu, HI. Model is Michelle Tuggle.
Figure study of a hyper-muscular woman bodybuilder. Model is Maria Calo.

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Bill Dobbins fine art exhibition at the Wave Photogallery, Brescia Italy
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Bill Dobbins fine art exhibition at the Wave Photogallery, Brescia Italy
Bill Dobbins fine art exhibition at the Wave Photogallery, Brescia Italy
Bill Dobbins fine art exhibition at the Wave Photogallery, Brescia Italy
Photographer Helmut Newton pioneered bringing nudes and fetish from fashion into the world of fine art.
Sometimes I shoot nudes much like Ansel Adams shot the desert and mountains – as landscapes.

The Best Book On The Artistic Nude:
Why “Nude” is not the same as “Naked.”


Most of my website photos available

Contact for prices and details
310 721 8666


More Fine Art Photos Available To Collectors

Saluting the sky and the universe. Model is Michelle Tuggle