Bob Shell: Why Radford?

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Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #35

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Letters  by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Photography by Anthony Colagreco, Copyright 2019

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I have often been asked why I had my office/studio in Radford, VA, not exactly the center of culture..

In the mid 70s, after the near collapse of the US economy (caused by the infamous Arab oil embargo and other economic factors) wrecked my first camera shop, I worked for a year for Woolco Department Stores managing the camera department in one of their Roanoke stores. I didn’t like that job, because department managers didn’t really manage anything, and quit to take a job with Ritz camera in Blacksburg. When that didn’t work out (my selling style was to spend the time with the customer to find out what that person needed to buy to accomplish what they wanted to do, and sell them that. The regional manager said I was spending too much time with the customers!), I found myself working in the photo lab at Virginia Tech, where I’d gone to school. We developed and printed film shot by the two staff photographers, and when both of them were busy, I’d occasionally be asked to go out and shoot a “grip and grin” photo of the university President shaking hands with some visiting dignitary. But I wanted to be the photographer, not a lab rat in the basement, so after a year or so at this I left and took a job with Gentry Studio in Blacksburg. They were a combo of photo studio and camera shop, the perfect job for me.

I worked there for several years, honing my own photography skills in their studio after hours. I liked working there very much, but always had the itch to do my own thing. After all, even the best boss is still your boss, and I never liked working for other people. Gentry Studios had three locations, Salem, Blacksburg, and Radford, all long established. The owner decided to close the Radford studio, so I took the leap and took it over. I changed the sign to Shell Studio and expanded the camera shop portion. This, as I recall, was in 1980, and the rent on the large studio location was $ 300 a month! Amazing, eh? But at times I had trouble coming up with that money. I inherited the job of photographing the sororities at Radford University and some other school business, plus selling all the materials required for the photography courses. This, plus portraits and some commercial work kept me going for a while, but money was tight. To pick up some extra income I began writing for a relatively new photography publication initially called Shutterbug Ads, a buy-sell-swap newspaper for photographers. Initially there was not much editorial content, and that was often poor in quality, but the owner wanted to improve the quality and become more of a mainstream magazine. When I first wrote for them they were printed tabloid size on yellow paper, and writers were paid in copies.

Parallel to this I had started a photographic equipment import and distribution operation. I had almost accidentally stumbled upon Enna Werk, a small German optical company in Munich that had just lost its US distributor. So I began importing and wholesaling their products, primarily camera lenses, slide viewers, slide projectors, and the Ennascop opaque projectors. After a year I broadened my product lines to include Fisher tripods and video lights from Italy, COIL aspheric magnifiers from England, and Lamborghini camera bags and sunglasses. These additional product lines resulted from meeting people at photokina in 1980, which I also covered for Shutterbug. For ten years I ran this business in parallel to acting as Shutterbug’s Technical Editor. By 1990 it had become just too much to do all of this, so I sold the import/distribution business. Shutterbug had by then transitioned to being a real magazine with ever-growing subscription list, distribution to booksellers, grocery stores, Wal-Mart, etc., and they offered me the job as Editor at a payment rate I could live on. As I have said before, though, I was never an employee of Shutterbug. I contracted to supply editorial services at a fixed monthly rate. This allowed me the freedom to set my own office hours, stay away from office politics, and take on noncompeting projects, like writing books. By the late 80s I was writing several books a year as well as writing for Photo Industry Reporter and some other noncompeting publications. Since I could do my work from anywhere, I stayed on in the Radford studio location, at 202 Third Avenue, right in downtown Radford. I probably would have stayed there indefinitely, but the roof leaked and the landlord refused to fix it. After two studio floods my insurance company said they would not pay for any more water damage, so I was forced to move. Luckily a great location became available, a former pharmacy measuring about 35 X 80 feet at 239 West Main Street, just a short distance from the police department. I kept my studio there from 1992 until 2007, fifteen years. So I had studios in Radford, on major commercial streets, for 20+ years, but when the police came to my studio after Marion’s death the detectives said they didn’t know I was in town! Some detecting!!

I wanted a big studio space, and the new location was ideal, since I had begun conducting studio workshops for groups of photographers. The monthly rent there started at $ 500 a month, and by 2007 had only gone up to $ 525! And that included a reserved parking space right by the back door. The rent also included heat in the winter. Amazing, and one of the main reasons I stayed in Radford all those years.

Anyway, that’s the story of why I was in Radford, somewhat abridged. I’d probably still be there, doing my photography, writing for books, magazines and websites, and generally enjoying life if the police hadn’t foolishly blamed me for Marion’s death. Their simple-minded nonsense destroyed me at the peak of my career. The plain fact, never disputed by anyone, is that I was not even there when Marion overdosed. When I found her unconscious, I immediately called 911 and did everything in my power to help her.

The real reason the Radford police, prosecutors, and court felt they had to destroy me was that some of my photography was frankly erotic (many Americans are terrified of open sexuality), and at the time of Marion’s death we were working on a book of erotica for a German publisher. The book was ultimately published as Erotic Bondage: Art of Rope by Goliath, first in their MixOfPix series. There is nothing pornographic about this book; no penetration, the photos are no more revealing than Playboy and far less revealing than Penthouse. We even Photoshopped some photos because we wanted to sell the book in most countries of the world, and put the text in English, German, French, and Spanish, for that reason as well. The book was published under my pseudonym Edward Lee, a pseudonym I’d used often since at least1993 (I don’t really remember when I first used it; it’s actually my two middle names. Over the course of my career I’ve used a number of pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. Many writers have done so. My friend Don Sutherland used something like 16 or 17 different pseudonyms.)

At my trial the prosecutor waved a copy of the book around at every opportunity, shoving it at my witnesses’ faces – “Have you seen THIS?”. He always seemed surprised when they answered, “Yes, Bob gave me a copy.” He was offended that they weren’t offended! None of my friends and former models found the book objectionable.

I just managed to keep my business going doing the 4+ years I was out on bail awaiting trial. I wrote four books, numerous magazine articles, held workshops, had a gallery show of my photographs in Chicago (but couldn’t go to it!), did my own photography, and generally tried to live a normal life during that time. But the prosecution was determined to convict me, and used false evidence and practically every other dirty trick in the book to. convince the jury that I was a scumbag who regularly drugged and raped my models, even though they couldn’t locate a single former model with anything negative to say about me. Not a one! And they looked for more than four years. As a lawyer I know said, if that had been true, surely someone would have come forward.

I’m almost tired of repeating that I am a totally innocent man destroyed by a corrupt political system because I dared to be different. They sentenced me to 32 1/2 years, when the Virginia sentencing guidelines recommended a maximum sentence of three years! The Virginia Dept. of Corrections classifies me as a “numerical lifer,” which means that even though I don’t have a life sentence I’m unlikely to live long enough to get out. That’s really depressing!

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonyward.com/bob-shell-wherefore-blog/

  

Posted in Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Men, News, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, Travel

Bob Shell: Wherefore Blog?

topless woman/beauty/nipple/piercing

Photo: Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

 

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #34

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Letters  by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Wherefore Blog?

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A friend who looked at this blog summarized it as “look how smart I am!”

That came as something of a shock. Sure, I’m as vain as any other man, but I hadn’t thought I might be putting people off; showing off my brainpower, as it were. That really wasn’t my intention in making these posts, but I’ll admit that I’ve been writing only about things I think I know a lot about. Perhaps I should point out that there are a great many things that I know little or nothing about. I guess most people have a limited range of things that interest them. For example, organized sports. I know zilch about most of them. I don’t dislike most sports, I’m just totally indifferent to them. I do dislike boxing and other fight/blood sports. (I once sat next to Muhammad Ali on a flight from Las Vegas to NY, and the poor man was shaking so hard it shook the whole row of seats.) I’ve never watched a Superbowl in my life, and if I ever did it would be for the commercials. Our pod TV here is tuned to ESPN most of the time and I have no idea what those commentators are talking about, nor any interest in learning. When Shutterbug’s parent company started a magazine in the early 90s called Soccer, I learned just enough about the sport to write about photographing the action, and would have learned more if the magazine had lasted, but it didn’t. I think it was ahead of its time, since interest in soccer wasn’t well developed in the US.

Something else I know almost nothing about is identifying trees and wild plants. Oh, I know an evergreen from a deciduous, and can tell an oak from a maple, but which type of oak or maple, I haven’t a clue, and I know how to identify poison ivy from bad experience, but most wild plants are just green leafy things to me. Birds I know reasonably well, but can’t identify specific warblers or sparrows. It just never seemed that important to me. A committed birdwatcher would be horrified. When I was in school at Virginia Tech I made the mistake of signing up for a medieval European history class. Boring, boring, boring! We were supposed to memorize long genealogies of European ruling families. I learned then that it is absolutely impossible for me to memorize anything that I don’t find interesting. I dropped that class. To me it was like those long biblical begat lists. I just don’t care who begat who. I’m interested in ancient history, though. Much of history, therefore, is a blank to me. I only know some “Civil War” history because my ancestral grandfather, Hugh McCracken, fought in it as an infantryman, and survived, or I wouldn’t be here. I know trends and roughly what happened before and after such-and-such in the rest of history, and that’s good enough for me.

When I decided to devote my life to photography in the late 60s, I took the time to learn as much as I could about it. Photography, as it existed when I was a young man was a combination of physics and chemistry. So I learned the basic physics of cameras/lenses and the basic chemistry of film and darkroom processes. I knew people who bought the constituent chemicals and made their own developers and other darkroom chemicals from scratch, but it always seemed fine to me to just buy the premixed stuff made by Kodak, Ilford, Agfa, or whoever. When I wanted to experiment with tintypes, I bought the kit from Photographer’s Formulary. The only processes I ever did from scratch were gum bichromate and the Rawlins oil process, because I couldn’t find any ready made kits, and both are relatively easy processes, requiring only one uncommon chemical (Potassium dichromate), plus gum arabic from an art supply store or gelatin from a grocery store. Mostly I played with those old processes just to prove to myself that I could.

Today,photography is transitioning from a combination of physics and chemistry to a combination of physics and electronics. I’m keeping up as much as possible by reading about changes in technology.

Right now the trend seems to be to get rid of the reflex mirror in cameras. We just don’t need a flipping mirror anymore. Getting rid of the mirror eliminates the main source of vibration in the camera. That mirror at a 45 degree angle reflecting the image from the lens up onto a viewing screen was inherited from the camera obscura, which dates back to the renaissance and revolutionized perspective. But with electronic viewfinders linked directly to the image sensor, the mirror isn’t needed. Recently Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and perhaps others I haven’t heard of yet have introduced new mirrorless SLR cameras, and whole new ranges of lenses for them. Getting rid of the mirror and its associated mechanics allows designers more freedom in lens design, since they can then get the rear lens element much closer to the image sensor. We should see a range of new lenses that are faster and sharper, like Fuji’s new f/1 lens, and Canon’s 50mm f/1.2 and 35mm f/1.8 macro. Of course these new mirrorless cameras had to have new lens mounts, but in most cases you can use your existing lenses via an adapter, so you needn’t splurge on a whole new system at once.

But I’m wandering off topic, as I so often do. I’ve been told that I’m a natural teacher, and that’s one of the purposes I envisioned for this blog. I love to share what I’ve learned in my years in photography. After all, when you do something for fifty years you’re bound to learn a few tricks!

At times it is frustrating. Here I am, after devoting my life to photography, not able to even touch a camera. I haven’t had a camera in my hands for more than eleven years. The last time was in court on the last day of my trial, when I demonstrated for the jury how easy it was to accidentally change the times on images in the Canon EOS 10D camera. I think the whole demonstration sailed right over their heads. People who are completely computer illiterate should not sit on juries in cases that involve technical computer testimony!

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-fighting-monsters/

 

Posted in Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Erotica, Film, Glamour, Models, News, Nudes, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, Portraiture, women

Mikala Mikrut: Sense of Place

 

Poetry by Mikala Mikrut, Copyright 2019

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Sense of Place

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Las Vegas is my home,

I feel it when I roam.

It must be the drama in the air,

I swear it follows me everywhere.

Seeing that billboard of a provocative lady,

Every day since I was a baby.

Every birthday mom made me ice skate,

An activity of which I still very much hate.

Mom drank fruit water every day,

But complained of the seeds in her way.

For her birthday, I found the solution,

A bottle of glass to also reduce pollution.

She looked at me with disgust, husband laughing,

And said, “no. this can’t be happening.”

“I know you didn’t just get me a fucking bottle,”

Eleven year old me broke down, lost grip of the throttle.

Met the man I thought I’d marry,

Now I’m pretty sure he’s gay, actually very.

My second boyfriend lasted 5 days,

I didn’t like waking from his bed in a haze.

Watching that man get hit by a car,

His body flew so far.

Being forced out of my mother’s twice,

Yeah, that didn’t feel very nice.

My dad dealt weed,

And now the same men in prison are waiting to be freed.

When I visited home from college and thought I had a place to stay,

I discovered my room had been given away.

To a child, not of love, not of blood,

But a mere “friend” from a different neighborhood.

I lost my friend Ben, put a gun to his head,

Oh the things I would have told him had I known he’d be dead.

Then there was the time I got drunk with uncle Doug,

He tripped as he walked over the rug.

To get to me where I was laying,

I could see in his eyes,

He wasn’t playing.

Lucky me, I got away,

Little did I know, my sister in the next room had to pray.

That’s not the worst of it, though,

I swear my life is a dramatic Tv show.

Step sister, Ava, removed from my life,

So much uncertainty, how couldn’t it cause strife?

But, oh, my poor sweet mom,

Who had a perfect life until my bomb.

Her angel of a husband “seduced” by 12 year old me,

She hinted to kill myself so she could be free.

“I want to go home” she would say with a tear,

“Death is no longer something I fear.”

She claimed the best excuse would be if I was gone,

Making herself sound like some twisted her heroine.

All of these things happened in one town,

And yet I can’t think of a single reason to frown.

Why be sad about any of these things?

When I can be excited for what the future brings. 

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Editor’s Note: Photographs Courtesy Mikrut family archives.  Copyright 2019

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About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a sophomore enrolled at Southern Utah University. To access additional articles by Mikala Mikrut, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/mikala-mikrut-the-best-way-to-speak-to-a-monster-is-from-a-distance/

Posted in Blog, Documentary, Popular Culture, Portraiture, women

Katie Kerl: Love The One You’re With

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Photography and Text by Katie Kerl, Copyright 2019

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Love The One You’re With

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Why are we so shut down emotionally that we’d rather cause literal chaos with the person we are supposed to love / be friends with , than tell them our problems, wants, and needs? 

Is it technology and the lack of actual verbal communication leaving us to send meaningless texts that can’t express feelings, body language, or facial expressions? How are relationships supposed to survive in this always connected world of miscommunication?  Often time’s things get left unsaid, nasty words for lack of a sensor behind a screen. People give up on relationships because no one understands they are actual WORK. 

When you’re sitting with someone and they are hesitating, crying, or look sad. Trying to understand someone else’s perspective while in the presence of that person is almost impossible to begin with. Take out the in person elements of all human interaction, and it’s no wonder why we walk around like emotionless drones.

Relationships are a second job entirely. Getting though your own day, getting in a little of your own hobbies, then doing all the couple stuff. They do not tell you in fairy tales there will be days you want to smother Prince Charming and rule the castle alone. There will be days he wishes he never put that glass slipper on your foot. Holding the castle up together is the point. Not losing site of that is the HARD PART. Arguing is two people against an issue to be solved. Not two people against each other trying to win.

It makes me think we have forgotten how to mutually love one another with no expectation other than for love to be returned?

Anyone with a crazy past gets it. You tend to be more perceptive to people’s emotions. It’s strange to be able to see things in people without them really telling me. Sometimes my gift of perception can also be a curse. Anxiety mixed with ADD will do that to you though.  I have gone through so much at an early age. If you look like you’re struggling I’m going to ask you why, if you do not answer me, I’ll ask again. I’m persistent, overly annoying, and caring. I’ve been through hell and back , and even the devil didn’t want me. 

When you find that person to love the one who completely accepts you, refuses to give up on you, & support is mutual. That’s some scary shit and an amazing feeling to be honest. Do not give up on that no matter how hard the work is because they get you. Every imperfect part of you and, and you feel the same way.

Now, I don’t just mean romantic relationships. I’m talking about friendships too. When people think they know you based on how far you let them In. Friends you can just BE around are the best. You don’t have to explain anything they just know. They know when you need them, they ask if you’re ok, stand up for you, and you do the same. No matter the distance between you.

Being accepted and chasing your dreams is all anyone wants. Everyone seems to have that side hustle now, because that 9-5 just is not giving you the satisfaction you were guaranteed when applying for colleges in high school.  If you have support and people who want to be there when it gets tuff, let them in. Real people are hard to come across these days.

Being able to write about real life has been very interesting. Some people are for it, and others wondering why I’m putting so much of myself out there. The simple answer is; if I help one person not feel alone in their situation that’s my goal.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Hallmark holiday true, but you can also make it a fun day to appreciate anyone. Being a foodie I think it’s the worst day to actually go out and eat. Pre-fix menus and over reserved restaurants just are not my thing. Make dinner at home, buy sex toys, write down memorable things and put it in a jar, send your parents flowers , get drinks with the girls, print photos and frame them. It really is the little things that matter. My mother really hammered that in my head as a kid and  I’m so happy she did. 

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About The AuthorKatie Kerl. Born 1984. Raised in Drexel Hill,  Pennsylvania. Attended Drexel University for Behavioral  Psychology .Occupation : commercial/ residential  design Philadelphia resident since 2011 . Hobbies include  : Foodie, whiskey drinker,  fitness , cooking  , tattoos , & house music lover . Instagram:  @beatz_eatz_n_freaks .To access additional articles by Katie Kerl, click here:http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/katie-kerl-philadelphia-foodgasim/

 

Posted in Art, Blog, Documentary, News, Popular Culture, Travel, women

Rongrong Liu: Light

 

Video and Text by Rongrong Liu, Copyright 2019

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LIGHT

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This video art project is all about light. I started thinking of using light as my main subject when I saw the disco ball installation recently at the Institute of Contemporary Art. What’s most interesting about it is that what I am able to see with my eyes is different from what the camera lens can see, which is iridescent.

There isn’t a strict plan for this piece. Starting from the first clip, each clip is what I associated in my mind with the previous one. The blurry night traffic scene ⇒ the micro bokeh light ⇒ disco ball ⇒ glass light ⇒ underwater light ⇒ projector light ⇒ smoke. After this clip are my interactions with the light, playing with the shadow and the time lapse of traffic. Light is everywhere, and it is different depending on the way we look at it (from a macroscopic or a microscopic view), how close we are, how focused we are, etc..

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Portrait of Rongrong Liu by Alexis Masino. Copyright 2019

Portrait of Rongrong Liu by Alexis Masino. Copyright 2019

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About The Author: Rongrong Liu is a Senior enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Rongrong Liu, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/rongrong-liu-me/

 

Posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Fashion, Models, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel, UPenn Student Photography, women