Helen K. Garber

fine art photography

Gold's Gym, Venice

I joined Gold's Gym Venice in 1992, soon after I worked with Le Cirque du Soleil troupe members. 
I loved going to the gym because the members were pretty fringe looking, visually extreme, sculpted wonders ..... the center of the small subculture of fitness fanatics. 

Although the gym still attracts a number of professional body builders and other athletes, as the general populace has taken on the attributes of what was then considered visually extreme; shaven heads, tattoos, tightly wrapped sculpted bodies on men and women...20 years later, it nor longer seems especially unusual to me.  I still love the gym because it is 3 blocks away from my home, I know many of the members and feel at home and they don't use air conditioning.  There is also still a serious vibe and lots of energy to keep you motivated to move through your workout and leave feeling great.

But back in '92, I was thrilled.  It was very sensual to be surrounded by these fabulous looking people all there with serious intent.  Although there were famous movie stars and lots of giant Lakers.. it was a very democratic process...we were all in it together, including me.  I whittled myself down to 117 lbs as I soaked up the frenetic energy around me and pushed as hard as I could.

One day I was on the treadmill between Magic Johnson and a little person in superb physical shape, Brian Kline.  Me, just about to enter middle age sandwiched between these two extraordinary people.  And thought, wow, here is another great subject matter for my camera.  They seemed the closest group to the Cirque members I was certainly going to run into in my own neighborhood and decided that this would be my first fine art project.

Fortunately I soon won a national photography contest that came with a $3500.00 prize and used that money to build out a photo studio in a warehouse arts complex directly across from the gym.  I invited members to my studio and shot there from 1995 - '99.  It was important for me to interview them and I have their stories on tape.  I also wanted to capture the energy of the gym and asked the management to allow me to photograph in the gym. 

It wasn't like today, where everyone walks around with a phone (although photographing is still strictly forbidden without permission).  But I was this unknown woman photographer and the misogynist pr director was doing his best to prevent my shooting there.  Fortunately one of the original owners became a fan and finally allowed me access to the gym.  And eventually they even hired me to do a fashion shoot for their clothing line.  And gave me VIP status, meaning no membership fee.  As my husband has said many times, tenacity is my middle name.

I finally got a dslr in 2010 and started to re-shoot the members that still work out there in color out at the beach instead of in the black void of a studio (I moved from that studio to the beach over 9 years ago, so a natural choice).  I counted 25 subjects from the project still working out there, we all growing old together.  I saw that Wally White was beginning to decline rapidly (he was 89) and it was important for me to catch him while I could.  He died just two months after I photographed him,  still a sweet soul, but dementia had really taken hold.  Three other members have died in the past year before I was able to catch them, but other projects have gotten in the way...and this one has been put aside for over a year.

This project has never been published in book form...if you are a publisher and have interest, please let me know.