Category Archives: Film

Bob Shell: Musical Instruments

Photo Illustration: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

Photo Illustration: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

 

Photography and Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

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I’ve made a sort of study of musical instruments from around the world, each with its own unique sound. From India there is the sitar, best known, but also the sarod, sort of an Indian lute, and another stringed instrument called the veena. All get their unique sounds from having brass strings. (You can hear sitar on recordings by Ravi Shankar or his daughter Anoushka. Sarod by Ali Akbar Khan. Veena by S.I. Balachander.). In Japan there is the koto, a sort of horizontal harp with silk strings, which can be heard in recordings by Kimio Ito. The Chinese have a plethora of instruments with names I never learned. You can hear many in The Chieftains in China. The Chinese also use the pentatonic scale, with only five notes in an “octave,” which is why their music sounds weird to us. The pentatonic scale was developed in ancient Greece, at least so say the historians. Maybe the Greeks got it from Egypt, or even older cultures. Frustratingly we have no idea what ancient Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, etc., music sounded like since they had no musical notation. We can only guess.

We know the Greeks, Egyptians, and other ancient cultures had stringed and wind instruments because both are depicted in their art, but we don’t know what they sounded like. Of course, all cultures had drums and percussion instruments.

The tabla drums of India are made of brass with hide drumheads that can be tuned so that different parts of the drumhead produce different sounds. They are. normally played in sets of two, a smaller one with higher pitch and a larger one with lower pitch. They are played with the fingers, palms, and even elbows. To hear a modern use of tabla drums, listen to Centa Terbaik by Tasya Rosmala. All Indian instruments, so far as I know, are played sitting on the floor, usually with half-lotus or even full-lotus positioning of the legs.

The Arabs have a large drum called a dumbeg and a smaller durbeki, played with the hands or short drumsticks. The Irish drum, played with both ends of a short drumstick is the bodhran. I’m sure the Turkish drums have names, but I don’t recall them. In Japan once I was treated to a performance of traditional big Japanese drums that are mounted with the drumheads vertical, and the players go at them with sticks the size of ax handles, attacking the drums as if trying to destroy them. Very, very loud! Almost .more of an athletic event than a musical performance. The performers wear loin cloths and are very muscular. The whole thing has a very savage feel.

Of course Africa and the Caribbean are where drums, a great variety of types and sizes, are the main instruments. To hear African drums at their best listen to the Missa Luba, a native Congolese mass performed with voices and drums. I’ve heard great drum music in the Caribbean, and, of course, there are the steel drums. There is a good recording of the Trinidad and Tobago Steel Drum Band available. Surprisingly, they hail from Rochester, NY! I don’t know how they tune those steel drums, but the sound can be beautiful.

Today the Mediterranean peoples have a variety of stringed instruments played like guitars. The Arab people have their oud, a fretless gut-stringed lute/guitar. To hear an oud played well, listen to Hala Laya by The Devil’s Anvil, from the album Hard Rock From The Middle East (where you’ll also hear dumbeg and durbeki drums). The Greeks have their bouzouki, also similar to a guitar. It is my understanding that the guitar itself was developed from the lute in Spain during the Moorish period. The Irish and Scot people, who originated in the eastern Mediterranean, took the Persian/Greek bagpipe north with them, along with the pentatonic scale. I’m not sure who carried musical instruments to Russia, perhaps the Rus brought them back from their viking raids on other cultures, but once Eastern Orthodox Christianity took hold, the balalaika, with its three strings and three-sided sound box (symbolizing the Trinity) was no surprise.

But a surprise did await the Spanish conquistadores in South America. In Bolivia at lake Titicaca they found Egyptian-looking reed boats and all over northern South America they found musicians playing in the pentatonic scale. In the Andes the local musicians played pentatonic panpipes and flutes. The stringed instrument was the charango, a sort of guitar/mandolin with a sound box made from the shell of an armadillo. Along with the panpipes there was a low pitched very long flute called senka tenkana (growing nose) that made the player stretch his arms. (To hear what Inca music sounded like, listen to “El Condor Pasa” by Los Incas, who also recorded as Urubamba.) Was the pentatonic scale carried to South America by ancient Egyptian sailors, or carried the other way? Apparently there was commerce between the regions because both tobacco and cocaine have been found in Egyptian mummies, and both originate in the Americas. There was apparently cross-cultural exchange in ancient times.

I find it odd that the Native peoples of North America were so musically undeveloped. Drums and flutes seem to be about it for their instruments, and often just the drums, accompanied by chanting. The music never made it up through Central America, apparently. Of course, depending on the date, much of today’s Central America was under water and migration largely impossible.

Humans like to make noise, and in many cultures unique musical traditions were developed. Will people of the distant future still listen to today’s music?

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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-a-stitch-in-relative-time/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Music, Photography, Popular Culture

Bob Shell: Wherefore Blog?

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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/

 

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Bob Shell: Prostitution?

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Photo: Tony Ward. From the book of Obsessions. Copyright 2019

 

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #32

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Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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PROSTITUTION?

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As you know, prostitution is illegal almost everywhere in the USA. Should it or other “victimless crimes” be? That’s a question I’ve pondered over for years. Basically, I’m a Libertarian. I’m in favor of the smallest possible government with the least possible intrusion into our lives. I don’t want a government that’s a surrogate parent, or a government that thinks it owns me. I don’t need a parent and no one owns me! And, so long as I harm no one else, government has no damned business intruding into my life. I’ve always felt that way, and being put in prison has only strengthened that belief. I’ve never harmed anyone, but an overbearing government put me here after sticking its long nose into what should have been private grief over an untimely death.

I see nothing wrong with prostitution so long as the woman (or man, but for the rest of this post I’ll talk about women) is doing it voluntarily, and has not been coerced into it. In Germany, and I believe in most of the European Union, prostitution is legal and regulated, with regular medical checkups. The women are businesswomen, each running her own business and paying taxes, not the property of a pimp (pimping is illegal). All are adults under their country’s definition, usually 15 or 16 depending on the country.

Have I known and patronized prostitutes? Yes and no, respectively. Some of the women who modeled for me also earned money as “escorts.”. I didn’t care so long as they were good at modeling.

When I first started photographing nude models I was young and pretty naive about things. I ran an ad in the Roanoke newspaper for models willing to pose nude, and got a number of responses. One of them was a very pretty black woman who lived in one of the big housing projects in Roanoke. On my first shoot with her I brought her to my home studio and found her to be a natural at posing. She had a great, expressive face and was slender and very flexible. After a couple of hours of shooting I told her we were through for the day and I’d take her home. She put her hands on her hips and a pout on her face and said, “Ain’tcha gonna fuck me?”. It turned out she was afraid I wouldn’t pay her unless she “serviced” me. I put her mind at ease by paying her and assuring her nothing else was expected. After that she modeled for me several times and we became pretty good friends. Last time I saw her, she was pregnant with a “trick baby.”. I never saw or heard from her again after that. I felt bad for her because I was pretty sure she had turned to prostition because there weren’t many other opportunities available to her to make money.

Other models I knew had turned to escort work just as an easy way to pick up extra money. One I knew put herself through college with modeling and escort work, and went on to a successful career. She liked and respected me because I kept my hands to myself and never hit on her for sex during or after a modeling session. We also became friends.

Back in the 60s when I was living in DC, I knew a high class “call girl.” She had a very nice apartment in an upscale building, expensive clothes, and ate very well. She kept in shape with regular exercise. Her clients were senators, other government men, lobbyists, and wealthy businessmen. She only had one client a night, and charged hefty fees for her services and her confidentiality. When I was between jobs one time she let me stay at her place for a couple of weeks and fed me. On evenings when she didn’t have a client, we sat around and listened to music and talked. We talked philosophy, about the latest books we’d read, etc., but she never talked about her work or her clients. She took her confidentiality very seriously. I knew her for a couple of years and never knew the names of any of her clients.

I used to go to Las Vegas often, but I never frequented the legal brothels outside town in the desert. Was I tempted? Not really. I’d never had to pay for sex and just didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. Since there is no federal law against prostitution, and no state law in Nevada, it’s up to local jurisdictions to regulate. It’s illegal in the city of Las Vegas, but legal in a nearby county where the brothels are.

Once in Tokyo I’d gone out bar hopping with some executives from one of the big camera companies. By the end of the evening, after visiting many little bars where we drank warm saki and ate various things on skewers cooked on hibachi drills, we were holding on to each other just to stand up. As I was getting ready to take a cab back to my hotel, the senior of the two said, “Bob-san, I have arranged for a girl in your room tonight,” He saw my negative reaction and misunderstood, “Don’t worry, she is very clean girl, you won’t catch anything!”. In Japan it is an insult to turn down a gift, so I had to pretend I was pleased, and flopped into the cab and headed off to my hotel, falling asleep on the way. Shortly after I stumbled and fumbled my way back to my hotel room, there was a quiet knock on my door. I opened the door and there stood a lovely young Japanese woman, more of a girl really, since she looked like she couldn’t have been out of her teens. Even if I’d been interested, I was still pretty blotto, and doubt that I could have done anything. I explained my predicament in slurred English, and she seemed to understand. “No worry,” she said, “I tell Mr. —– that you perform very strong.”. I was grateful to her for understanding, gave her a generous tip, and sent her off into the Tokyo night, then fell across the bed and woke up hours later with a fierce hangover.

She was probably older than she looked, since Japanese men tend to like really young-looking women. When I was sending glamour and nude images to my Tokyo agent, she was always telling me my models looked too old, even though they were barely legal in the US. She wanted models who looked around 13, and I couldn’t get across to her that in the U.S.A. I could get arrested for photographing girls who looked underage, no matter how old they really were. It’s called “virtual child pornography,” and is illegal, which I think is a totally ridiculous idea. I’ve photographed 16 year old nude models in Germany, where it was totally legal, but I can’t bring those pictures into the U.S.A. They’d be illegal here. It’s sheer insanity!

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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-bondage/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Early Work, Erotica, Fetish, Men, News, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, women

TWS: Happy New Year!

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TWS: Happy New Year 2019

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Early Work, News, Photography, Popular Culture

2018: The Year in Covers

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December 31, 2018

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Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2018

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As 2018 draws to a close, I would like to thank all of my contributing writers, associates and affiliates for the many compelling articles I’ve had the pleasure of posting over the past year. This gallery of covers represents the diversity of articles and creative talent I’ve had the blessing to work with over the past twelve months, as we converged on a variety of topics ranging from politics to art. The 2018 contributors list includes: Kathryn Brooks, Summer Thomkins, KVaughn, Stanek Gallery, George Krause, Catherine Trifiletti, A.H. Scott, Bob Shell, Mikala Mikrut, Suzaan Talib, Robert Asman, Ed Simmons, Thomcat23, and our newest contributing writer, Katie Kerl.

 

Happy New Year!

 

 

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