I’ve written about this photograph before. Carla was amazing to photograph and over the years we became great friends, working together many times. I was lucky to photograph Carla early on during my 25 year bodybuilding project. The images I took of her during our first shoot cemented the artistic style I would bring to a subject that previously had been photographed solely in a hard-core muscle, commercial style.
This portrait of Carla will always be a classic image in my portfolio and certainly one of my all time favorites. The following essay was taken from my book on women bodybuilders, “PHYSIQUE,” published in 1996 by Thunder’s Mouth Press.
Carla Dunlap was the first professional bodybuilder I ever photographed. Better Bodies Gym was starting a modeling agency for athletes. Owner, Brian Moss asked me to photograph the models for his agency’s first promotional piece. Carla had won the 1983 Ms. Olympia several months earlier and in addition to her appearance and victory in Pumping Iron II: The Women, she was the top woman in the sport. During the past few years I had photographed Baryshnikov, Little Richard, and Lord Snowdon but Carla’s shoot was the first time I was ever nervous.
She strolled into my apartment studio with a brownie in one hand and a bag full of pastries in the other. The first thing I remember about Carla was her laughter. Nothing like sweets to make a bodybuilder happy. Carla was so personable I couldn’t help but be relaxed.
I took my best pictures of any bodybuilder at that shoot. Carla was the first competitor I worked with who knew how to pose. Her training as a gymnast and synchronized swimmer obviously helped her poise. Every pose was finished, the positioning of each body part flawless. Even her movement from pose to pose was perfect. Carla could have been choreographing a posing routine while she modeled for my camera.
Because of her fame and posing abilities, Carla was chosen as one of the models for my 1990 PLAYBOY shoot on women bodybuilders. We shot hundreds of pictures over many hours just to get the few pictures PLAYBOY would use. As much as I like the photographs I did for PLAYBOY, my favorite picture from that day is a snapshot polaroid I did while we were on our lunch break. Carla is sitting at my desk, naked except for a scarf, just having finished lunch with my Christmas tree in the background. Carla is oblivious to her nudity. She’s happy we just ate and ready to begin work again. There is nothing like food to satisfy a bodybuilder.