Before he traveled through time to save the world, before he became the most powerful man in California, Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger was front and center during photo shoots for some of the world’s most recognized male physique photographers.
In fact, Schwarzenegger was one of the more famous faces who appeared in front of Bob Mizer’s lens. Up to that point in his long career, Mizer had filmed and taken still images of talent ranging from Joe Dallesandro to Ed Fury to the infamous Paul Ferguson (convicted in the late 1960s of murdering silent film star Ramon Novarro).
“Arnold is probably the face that people who have had no previous exposure to Mizer’s work will recognize immediately. He certainly was already on the way to achieving mainstream appeal in the mid-‘70s, even though his film career was still a few years away,” says Dennis Bell, president and CEO of The Bob Mizer Foundation.
In Mizer’s photo, taken in 1975, Schwarzenegger, clad in leopard-print swimming trunks and standing poolside, hoists a young boy wearing yellow swimming trunks onto his shoulders, a wide grin on his face.
“This is just one of many images that many people don’t even realize came from Mizer himself,” Bell says. “Bob’s work is so voluminous that it’s a joy to be able to impart share that with others.”
Schwarzenegger also posed for famed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who would go on to shoot a laundry list of celebrities, including Andy Warhol, Richard Gere, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, and Patti Smith. Schwarzenegger posed for Mapplethorpe in 1976, only a year after Mizer took his own photo of the bodybuilder and budding actor. In Mapplethorpe’s photo, Schwarzenegger appears posed to the left of a paisley-patterned curtain.
According to an analysis of the photo from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation: “By positioning the bodybuilder within a studio setting next to a large curtain, Mapplethorpe makes reference, possibly ironically, to the nineteenth-century Western artistic tradition of representing the nude. In this tradition, the idealised male or female body was depicted either partially clothed or naked, often with drapery similar to that of the curtain in Mapplethorpe’s photograph. As the critic Allen Ellenzweig writes: ‘[Schwarzenegger is posed] beside a fully curved drapery typical of decorative backdrops in the nude and still-life studies of the previous century.’”
A cutline accompanying the Foundation’s photo also makes note of the sexualization of the heterosexual male athlete by a homosexual artist, itself a recurring theme in Mizer’s works: “…the curator Christopher Bedford has argued, the homosexual artist has transformed a ‘heterosexual male athlete into an object of his desire.’ Mapplethorpe encourages the viewer to admire Schwarzenegger’s self-created musculature and bodily excess.”
Schwarzenegger decided to more aggressively pursue an acting career and retired from bodybuilding shortly after Mizer and Mapplethorpe shot their photos of the iconic figure.