Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Photographing The Physically Fit

In July, I landed a magazine assignment to write about and photograph the fitness course at Bear Brook State Park.

The course is over a mile long and located deep in the woods adjacent to the public beach at the park. It has 20 exercise stations, each one with a sign showing a stick figure demonstrating the exercise that should be done at that particular station. If done in the proper sequence, the exercises are supposed to provide a proper warm-up, workout and cool-down. Some of the stations even have equipment, such as pull-up bars, slant boards, a balance beam and monkey bars.

With a pen and notebook in one hand, and my camera in the other, I set out on a hot, humid day to walk the length of the course and take notes for my article. At first, I was determined to follow the instructions on the signs and actually do the exercises, but I quickly changed my mind when all of the grunting and noises I made while trying to do them began to attract wild animals that thought they were mating calls.

The magazine editor had suggested that I take photos of physically-fit-looking people using the course, but I didn’t see a soul out there. I even hung around the course for over an hour, waiting, but aside from a squirrel and 11,000 mosquitoes and deer flies, I saw no other forms of life. Finally, I headed down to the public beach to try to recruit some fit-looking people to pose for me.

Optimistic person that I was, I thought it was going to be a snap.

I walked the length of the beach three times. I saw plenty of beer bellies and cellulite. I saw pale, scrawny guys with bony knees. I saw two very pregnant women. I saw people waving with arms that looked as if they had flesh-colored bat wings attached to them. I wanted Arnold Schwarzenegger and Suzanne Somers. Unfortunately, the majority of the people there resembled…me.

Then I spotted, on the grass adjacent to the beach, a group of people who appeared to be in their early 20s, playing badminton. I rushed over to them.

“Excuse me,” I said to one of the players, a young man with strong-looking arms and a flat stomach. He smiled and took a step toward me. “Would you like to pose for some physical-fitness photos for a magazine?”

He just stood there, continuing to smile. I repeated my question. Still, he didn’t respond. Finally, one of his pals asked him something…in a language I didn’t recognize. The guy shrugged and answered him in the same language. No one in the group spoke English (either that, or they just wanted to get rid of me).

Sighing, I walked off. That’s when I spotted a shapely woman in a bikini and a long-haired, Fabio sort of guy approaching a picnic table. I made a beeline toward them, explained what I was doing and asked if they’d like to pose for some photos for a magazine.

Their first response was to burst out laughing. When they finally stopped, they fired a bunch of questions at me: “Where is this fitness course? How come we’ve never heard of it? Will we be on the cover of the magazine? How do we know you’re legitimate? Do you have any identification? Will we have the final say on which photos you use?”

Twenty minutes of questions later, the guy asked, “And how much will we get paid for doing this?”

“Um…nothing,” I answered.

“Bye,” they said in unison.

Defeated, I plunked down on the stone wall that lined the beach and sulked. About 15 minutes later, I happened to glance toward the parking lot and spotted, off in the distance, two very fit-looking guys unloading bicycles from a bike rack on a car. Both of them were wearing snug, form-fitting bicycle shorts and tops. I dashed over to them before they could get away.

Gasping for breath, I pointed at the woods behind them, where the fitness course was located, and blurted out, “Would you two guys like to go into the woods with me and pose for some pictures?”

They jumped onto their bikes and took off so fast, they left skid marks.

Two hours passed before I finally convinced a woman, her teenaged daughter and her daughter’s friend to be my victims. They couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating as they followed me along the winding trail through the woods. I made them dangle from monkey bars, lie on the ground and do push-ups, and balance on vertical posts near a swamp where the bugs thought we’d just rung the dinner bell.

At the end of the photo shoot, I thanked my three models over and over again, and told them to be sure to look for themselves in the magazine. Then I headed straight for the nearest pharmacy, had the photos developed, wrote the article and sent off everything to the magazine editor.

“Loved the article,” the editor wrote back, “but with the bright sunlight filtering through the trees in the photos, everyone looks spotted and blotchy. Can you take some new shots, preferably on an overcast day or using a fill flash?”

I’m still waiting for Arnold Schwarzenegger to return my call.