body building competition in Yavneh - amir cohen - november 3 2011
A contest waiting backstage at a bodybuilding competition in Yavneh, November 3, 2011. Photo by Amir Cohen
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As in every good sports drama, this hard-nosed photograph by Reuters’ Amir Cohen contains the fundamental element without which emotion is absent: the dream, the ambition to be someone, to be someone at the right time, to reach a peak and excel. The photograph, one of a series taken during a national bodybuilding competition in Yavneh on November 3, observes this short competitor in a moment of concentration before he goes onstage. There are no eyes popping out of the image, only a body, so Cohen’s gaze encourages a response freed of the rules of politeness. We can look without any limitation at the naked body that in another minute will be subjected to judgment. Is it beautiful? Developed? Inflated? A turn-on? Repulsive?

The body is a permanent subject of observation in art, and in sports photos the subject becomes the motion of the body. Here, Cohen allows us to observe an athlete without connection to his motion, within his world. He is bending his head. His red underwear bulges in the dark. Behind him, some sort of blue mattress, maybe a sofa, is folded and taped provisionally. The well-developed muscle in his nape causes the already slouched shoulders to resemble triangular ribs, the spotted hands give away his age, the dark shiny material with which he was smeared ahead of the contest − which is supposed to play up the distinction between the different muscles − was insufficient to cover his feet, and his toes are left gleaming white. His number is 10, and he is accidentally stepping on a piece of cardboard. From this perspective, which captures him in full, he looks vulnerable.

But not only the presence of this competitor is captured here but that of others as well. To his right there is a sign that has no connection with