(Story by Artie Zeller)
I was there with my camera on the day Arnold hit his ultra – peak! I believe there is a single day in the curve of a bodybuilder’s career when he is in his greatest shape. For Arnold Schwarzenegger it was September 1973; several weeks before the Mr. Olympia contest.
The setting was the beautiful Santa Monica mountains. With me was that dynamic bodybuilding duo, Arnold and Franco. It was the perfect day for pictures! I had just purchased my dream camera, the Hasselblad – the one famous for taking those great photos of the Earth from the Moon. And the time was right. California summers are at their height in September. That’s when the days are the warmest and clearest of the year. This was just such a day. In 1973, the mountains were mostly uninhabited, with few dwellings and not a soul in sight. An occasional bird flew by. The peace and quiet was wonderful. Arnold, Franco and I found our location and settled down.
While I began setting up my equipment, Arnold spread out a towel and laid down. Franco pumped up with a few push ups and towel pulls, and soon after I began photographing him he was phenomenal as always. We worked hard; experimenting (and very successfully as it turned out) with the light and with new poses. However, three years later when Franco won the Mr. Olympia title for the first time, I was able to get even better photos of him (but that’s another story).
After several hours of shooting, we took a break; sipped iced tea from an oversized thermos jug and chatted for a while. Now cooled and refreshed, my energy and enthusiasm having returned, I was ready for Arnold. The usually jovial Arnold had been rather quiet all that morning, almost meditative. While I had been busy with Franco, Arnold had been sunbathing. You could see that he was conserving energy because he was so close to a major competition. His workout had been ferocious and his diet severe.
“Arnold, you ready?”, I asked. He opened his eyes. Without saying a word, he stood up. Suddenly I saw him as I had never seen him before. His muscles seemed to be bursting from his 6’2”, 240lb. body. His fresh glowing tan made him appear radiant in the bright sunlight; his physique was overwhelming. It was obvious that he would need no pumping up, as most do before a photo session. He just got into position and began hitting poses. It was one eyepopping pose after another. His self – confidence was supreme. He was ready – he felt it! I felt it! Standing before me was the world’s greatest bodybuilder!
In my long association with this sport, I have seen every great bodybuilder; I can say with certainty that I have never seen anyone reach the level of development that Arnold possessed at that moment! I had been photographing Arnold almost every week since his arrival in America, but now, all at once, he had made a quantum leap forward.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has since gone on to many victories but the impression he made on me that day still lingers. Now, thirteen years later, I ask myself, was it real, or was it merely my enthusiasm? Perhaps it was the beautiful light – the pristine mountaintop – my new Hasselblad. No doubt they all helped. However, as I look over my photos from that afternoon, I realize that any one of the forty-eight poses Arnold took that afternoon could have been used to illustrate this story.
Yes, it was real. By some mysterious chemistry all elements in his body were at their maximum, simultaneously. On that day, Arnold was in his Greatest shape!