Pej Behdarvand is an L.A.-based photographer best-known for his studio portraits of celebrities such as Beck and Quincy Jones, but his latest project was a bit of a departure for him.
Behdarvand stumbled upon the world of bodybuilders in Africa during research for another project. He decided to travel to Africa to document the pastime of bodybuilding. His photos are being shown at the DRKRM gallery through the end of this week. For our latest installment of our series on photography called Picture This, we talk to Behdarvand about what drew him to this topic.
On how the project got started:
"I had a commercial assignment where I had to find a bodybuilder for a background shot. I went on Google and I researched bodybuilders, and I saw this website that's no longer in existence of these bodybuilders in Africa. Their environment looked very interesting, their weights looked very interesting. Their weights looked, quite bluntly, very primitive looking. They were made out of stone and rocks, and they used car parts for weights, like tire rods and gear. The rooms were interesting because they were kind of dilapidated. There were holes in a wall, and you could see that these men didn't have much money but yet they still had this drive for fitness."
On the bodybuilding culture in Uganda/Kenya:
"I would say it's pretty small. We live in Los Angeles, and it's nothing like it is here. These places are very out of the way. It's not like you'd walk down the street and find a gym. One of them was in this very dark mall, and most of them were these out of the way places with a small wooden sign where you'd never know that there was this bodybuilding going on here."
On the atmosphere of the gyms he visited in Africa:
"When you're in the gyms, they're very quiet. There's no loud music. It felt almost like a very internal world."
On the desire to body build in Africa:
"What I wanted to capture in this was the passion involved. The drive of these men to do what they wanted to do, despite their limited means and ability. There's a form of self-expression desired here, because there really aren't many outlets in some countries to express oneself. I think there's a certain amount of desire for strength and vitality that they maybe don't have in their day-to-day life, and I imagine there's a certain amount of vanity involved too. What I knew I had going for me going on was that bodybuilders like to be seen. They're always standing in front of the mirror checking themselves out, posing just like here."
On the primitive stone and metal weights used:
"They're definitely beautiful. They're definitely pieces of art, I think, in how they fabricated it. Using the metal rods and the tire gears and the way they were set up in the workout rooms, it was just visually stunning."