pej behdarvand – bingwa

[slidepress gallery=’ejbehdarvand_bingwa’]

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Pej Behdarvand


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Bingwa is a Swahili word that translates not only as “expert” or “competent,” but also as “bodybuilder.”

This project began when I stumbled across a website featuring African bodybuilding and was struck by the appeal that bodybuilding has around the world, even in impoverished rural Africa. I traveled to Kenya and Uganda, documenting the homemade gyms and a local contest. I was amazed by the enterprise and determination these men possessed by taking up bodybuilding in countries where there are so few resources, opportunities and facilities for it.


Born in Tehran, Iran, Pej Behdarvand is a photographer who currently resides in Los Angeles, CA.  He was screening his short movies domestically in film festivals while attending the San Francisco Art Institute where he received his B.F.A. in Film.  After his education, he began to experiment with photography and developed a portfolio, which landed him commercial assignments and awards from American Photography and Communication Arts.  He is generally drawn to unfamiliar, lesser-known or forgotten subjects, and often uses structuralist working methods. For the series, Full Moon (2007-2010), for example, he photographed the full moon every month for three years in a desire to reintroduce the moon, once a prominent subject in poetry, fiction and art, as a character in our modern landscape.  The ongoing Monk portraiture series brought him to Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka to document different traditions of monastic life and explore why individuals choose to live outside society.  The ongoing landscape series, Dreaming California, employed the old Hollywood technique known as Day for Night to capture a somewhat darker aspect of the “sunny California” landscape.  The series, BINGWA, is his first completed personal documentary project.

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Pej Behdarvand

9 Responses to “pej behdarvand – bingwa”

  • Number 7 with the chicken is great!

  • Fascinating.. nr. 4 and 7 esp. .. but also other pictures.. thanks!

    Personally I understand this kind of going to the edge more than the one in the previous essay..

  • Congratulations pej

    Fascinating story, visually very rich. Your photographs do it justice. I especially like 5,7,and 11. I also very much like 13 and 34 in your website edit. 13 especially for me is the most powerful photo in the whole series.


  • Excellent color photography, though it seems somehow I’ve seen these pics before, even though I haven’t. And very enterprising, finding such an offbeat, visually compelling story in such an unexpected place. Unfortunately, for me at least, the truly unexpected part of the story was that steroids are so prevalent in the far reaches of Africa. What’s up with that?

  • 7 is the prize. Tells so much of the story in one shot.

  • Oddly enough, this one takes me back to my childhood in Missoula, Montana – even though Missoula was nothing like Kenya and Uganda.

    Excellent. Very well done.

    Like David, you cause me to rethink my almost utter devotion to photographing strictly under available light. Not quite, because I still have this feeling that I must photograph the world as I find it, not as I light it, but when I see the force and power in images such as yours, then I wonder if maybe mine is a somewhat foolish aesthetic.

    I agree with Jim Powers – #7 is wonderful. I think the others are, too.

    I liked your more complete essay on your site – where, I have to say, I also greatly liked the portraits of the security guards. Those were fantastic. So were the moons.

  • Thank you all for your support. This project was a true adventure and a lot of fun.

    I do feel obliged to defend the bodybuilders regarding the use of steroids in a comment above. With the exception of one possible bodybuilder, the rest of the athletes in the series are all natural bodybuilders who do not use steroids. The men not only do not possess the financial means to purchase steroids, but the availability of the drug is extremely difficult as the demand for it is so minimal. The men in this series are also not as huge as the bodybuilders that we have in the US or in Europe due to the lack of steroids, vitamins, and supplements.

  • First of all PB congratulations on being published on Burn!
    I see some guys in these images who are quite obviously not taking steroids like images 7 and 5. Now image 1 I see the guy on the right seems to have a very suspicious big stomach I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was a growth hormone gut. Image 13, well you don’t get to that state of “huge” and cut by just doing a heavy diet; the human body when on a low carb diet eats indiscriminately both muscle mass and fat.
    In the world of professional body building it’s quite a well known rumour there is a very strong gay prostitution racket, only way many of the guys can keep up with the bills for drugs. The saddest part in the professional body building competitions everyone wants to bigger and freakier and there is only one way and it’s certainly not with spaghetti and the guys are risking there lives more and more…it’s a chemical warfare. Who’s fault is it? The public and the organizers and the mags who sell lies and are the only ones making any money in this racket and of course telling young kids they can be as big as Jay Cutler by drinking protein milkshakes…
    Anyway loved your essay on the moon and I’m sure if you really wanted to go further with this essay I move into the world of drug abuse you really could make one very strong essay…but it’s risky.
    BTW I’m not a body builder or anything like it but I’ve been in sport all my life and had one very close friend who competed as a pro body builder at European champion level, but that was a long time ago.

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