After photographer Art Zeller passed away in 1999, IRONMAN publisher John Balik decided to honor him by creating the Art Zeller Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in the World of Bodybuilding, which will be given every year to someone who has made a significant recognizable contribution to our sport. The first Art Zeller Award was presented at the 2000 IRONMAN Pro Invitational to Russ Warner. Anyone who knows bodybuilding and its history understands the reason Warner was chosen. The following overview of his career and accomplishments, along with a few pages of some of his best photos, shows why he is truly one of the most remarkable photographers in bodybuilding'he captured its history with drama and innovation.
Russ Warner was a bodybuilder who competed in a few contests in the late 1940s, and he realized that the photographs of the top stars of that era didn't do them justice. He began studying photography on his own, and soon he was on his way to becoming the most famous muscle photographer in the world. Between 1949, when his first cover photo of Steve Reeves was published, and 1965 his images appeared on more than 100 physique magazine covers, and he was universally acknowledged as the number-one physique photographer in the world.
Russ was an innovator who brought fresh ideas to physique photography. He sought out and used exotic outdoor backgrounds to complement and enhance the great bodybuilders he photographed. He was the first to use such settings, creating pictures like Steve Reeves posed on a mountaintop with a sword, Clancy Ross on a sailboat flexing against the rigging, Vince Gironda at Vasquez Rocks, Reeves on the beach at Portuguese Bend in Palos Verdes, California, and Dick DuBois and Betty Weider on a yacht at Newport Beach, California'which started the trend of posing male bodybuilders with beautiful women. He was also the first to use Hawaii as a location for physique photography.
In 1954 Russ invented a new indoor lighting technique called rim lighting, which he used in his studio against a black background to make his subject stand out from the backdrop while highlighting every area of the body. He used five floodlights to get that effect.
When Russ photographed me with that black background in his studio in 1954, those were the greatest photographs ever taken of me,' said five-time Mr. Universe Reg Park.
The rim-lighting technique was embraced by Jimmy Caruso, who used strobes, or electronic flash, to get the same effect, and he became Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite photographer as well as Joe Weider's top lensman for Muscle Builder magazine.
I learned Russ' technique directly from him. He showed me exactly how to set the lights, and I eventually had more than 100 cover photos published, for which I owe Warner a huge debt of gratitude. I'm also grateful for his inspiration, information and guidance. All of the top muscle photographers today have been influenced by the innovations Russ Warner made in the genre.
Always looking for new methods to get even more fantastic photos, Russ built a cylindrical spiral device that reflected sunlight from the skylight in his studio and looked just like a posing light on stage at a contest'only better. He showed me some photos of Ed Corney taken under his skylight invention that were the most vivid, three-dimensional-looking black-and-white photos I've ever seen.
Russ was the most versatile of all of the physique photographers of his era. He could do it all. Art Zeller, great as he was with available light, never used studio lighting. Jimmy Caruso never photographed anyone outdoors. Russ got great photos outdoors, in the studio, at contests and in the gym. He was my role model for muscle photography.
Russ Warner's immortal photographs of early superstars like Steve Reeves, Clancy Ross, Jack Delinger, Reg Park, Vince Gironda, Leo Robert, George Eiferman, Marvin Eder and many others too numerous to mention deserve a very special place in the Bodybuilding Hall of Fame.