Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and his trip to Motor City – Part 7

Published 12:04 am Friday, May 6, 2022

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Bob Peoples stood in the back-alley studio of famed photographer Douglas Juleff (better known by his business moniker, Douglas of Detroit). Peoples came there to have pictures made by the greatest physical culture photographer in America, and who knew, maybe it could launch the strongest man in the world into stardom like Juleff had done for so many before.
Steve Reeves went from bodybuilder to the starring role in Hercules. Twenty years later, Arnold Schwarzenegger would transform from poor immigrant teenage bodybuilder to action movie icon and eventually governor of America’s most populous state.
Recently World’s Strongest Man winner Halfthor Bjornson plied his fame into a starring role on Game of Thrones and a net worth of over two million dollars. Peoples too possibly hoped to convert his fame as a strong man into a more lucrative career.
We don’t know much about the session as only four photographs have been found after much research. Three appear in Peoples’ book, Developing Physical Strength. One is of low quality with poor lighting and no obvious photo retouching. The others, however, are of the quality expected from a master like Juleff.
In one, Peoples stands in the famous front double bicep pose. He wears his dark lifting trunks that he competed in and a webbed belt. His knees are wrapped in Ace bandages as he is famous for pioneering.
He often soaked them with lineament to warm the joints and help with pain. His feet are shod in simple athletic socks and black Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
But Peoples didn’t pay Juleff to document what he wore, he was there to cast his muscular frame, broad shoulders, and trim waist in the most flattering light possible.
Juleff discovered what portrait photographers today use as a staple – men should be lit from above with lots of shadows. This highlights the square chin and larger muscles of men. The background is almost completely black in this photo with shadows emphasizing the definition of his legs, torso, and arms.
You can see so many details in his arms with veins, tendons, striations, and muscles all perfectly on display.
With careful observation, one notices the deft hand of Juleff. There are highlights added to his chest and stomach which draw attention to the sleek and muscular midsection. Only a trained eye notices the lines and shadows added to the arms which emphasize the size of his biceps and details of his muscular back while accentuating those broad shoulders and slight waist.
And of course, one notices Peoples’ monstrous fists the size of a lunch boxes, the very hands that allowed him to hold onto even the heaviest deadlifts in the world with ease.
Another photo from People’s book shows his wide and muscular back in a rear double biceps pose. There is obvious retouching of highlights along with the muscles of his back and the crisp retouched edges of his arms and torso which are juxtaposed against the dark backdrop.
There is one other photo from Juleff that does not appear in his book but was obviously taken in the same sitting as it is the reverse of his front double bicep photo. It is an absolutely fantastic shot displaying Peoples’ most amazing features, the muscles of his forklift-like back.
Juleff shows the striations rippling in his low back like a Christmas tree and each and every muscle is highlighted to maximize all of its glory.
These works of art are nothing like the other pictures we have of Peoples in his back yard, basement, or backstage of a lifting event that featured poor lighting and grainy textures.
These are Hollywood-worthy photographs that put the unbelievable physique of Peoples on display as no other photographs did.
Peoples changed into his street clothes and left Douglas of Detroit; he had a long trip back to Tennessee. As he drove those many miles with his companion, Bob Hise, there must have been plenty of conversation about his lifting performance, what went wrong, and how to fix it.
But in those quiet times when nothing was heard but the rhythmic thumping of the road, there must have been time for Peoples to dream.
What if these pictures made it onto the desk of a Hollywood talent scout, movie producer, or modeling agency? Could this be the big break that would change his life?
Powerlifting was an amateur sport, and no matter how many records he broke or how much weight he lifted he would never make a dime for that effort. But maybe it could all be different.
We are also left wondering what is missing from this tale. It is obvious that Juleff would have taken many pictures during this session, dozens at least; hundreds possibly.
Yet, all we have are five, and four with retouching to make Peoples look his best. Where are all the other photographs? It is obvious that Peoples received some of these no doubt by mail, but the originals and negatives would be kept by Juleff.
And this is where our story takes a tragic turn.
As Peoples awaited the news about what those pictures could do to change his life, he could never have known that deep in the bowels of the Department of Justice building in Washington, DC, in the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, plans were in the works to smash down the door of Douglas of Detroit and destroy any hopes Peoples had for that future.
To be continued…

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