Category Archives: Portraiture

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/

 

Also posted in Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Erotica, Film, Glamour, Models, News, Nudes, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, 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/

Also posted in Blog, Documentary, Popular Culture, women

Diary: Theresa. A Visit to Alcatraz

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Theresa: A Visit to Alcatraz. 1980

 

 Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

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Diary: Theresa. A Visit to Alcatraz. 1980

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I first laid eyes on Theresa as she excited a cable car on a side street next to the Fairmount Hotel where I was staying in San Francisco on assignment in 1980.  She walked directly towards me as I was standing on the sidewalk next to the hotel waiting for the concierge to have my car delivered from the garage on my way to a photo shoot.   I said hello and she said hello back with a flirtatious smile.  Low and behold she was an employee of the hotel as she motioned to open a side door I noticed for employees only . As she opened her purse to get her pass key,  I commented that I was a guest at the hotel and mentioned how satisfied I was with the accommodations.  She said she would pass the compliment on to management.  We exchanged phone numbers.  Later that day we met for drinks at Donatello, her favorite Italian restaurant just off of Union Square.

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Theresa at Donatello. Union Square. San Francisco, 1980.

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One thing quickly led to the next and so began a brief but romantic relationship. One of the highlights of our time together was a trip we took to Alcatraz Island where I captured this very beautiful moment with this Mexican beauty!

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To access additional diary entries, click here:http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/diary-a-fashion-shoot-at-the-jersey-shore/

 

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Early Work, Glamour, Light Table, Photography, Popular Culture, women

Bob Shell: Bondage?

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Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #31

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Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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BONDAGE?

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Why are “straight” people so freaked out over bondage? That’s a real puzzle to me. Here in the enlightened Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), all bondage photos/videos are classified as “violent.”. That would come as a surprise to the thousands of couples who employ bondage as part of their sex play, and buy their bondage gear and sex toys at the local shopping mall or on line. In England the big Sainsbury’s supermarket chain just announced that they will begin selling a selection of sex toys.

Sure, restraining an unwilling person is a violent act, but when both people, Dom and Sub (or Top and Bottom in today’s terminology), are voluntary participants, where’s the violence? Only in the eye of the beholder. And who else’s business is it, anyway?

I can attest to the fact that there was no violence in the 100+ bondage photos I shot for my bondage book. The only violence was violent fits of laughter that the models and I sometimes fell victim to. We laughed until we cried.

Not long ago I had an issue of Vogue confiscated as contraband. You heard right, Vogue, the 126 year old fashion and culture magazine. Why? Bondage. One of the advertisements showed a full page photo of two young women playfully wrapping stockings around one another. That’s bondage? Yep, in the eyes of the VDOC it is. Even though the mailroom censors approved the magazine and gave it to me, I still got a “possession of contraband” charge for having it!

At the same time in the buildup to Halloween this year several cable channels that we get showed movies in which involuntary bondage, usually of nubile females, played a part. I don’t even have a TV, but just passing by the big pod TV put these images before me. Talk about violence! The old “damsel in distress,” (Little Nell tied to a railroad track by Snidely Whiplash, waiting for Dudley Doright to come to the rescue), still attracts viewers, and if she’s mostly naked, so much the better. I’ve got news for the VDOC, I’ve never tied Little Nell, or anyone else, to a railroad track! And seeing two women playfully wrapping stockings around each other only brings a chuckle from me. It never even occurred to me that anyone could look at that playful image and see violent bondage

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If people want to tie each other up, and there’s no force or coercion, whose business is it besides theirs? Even if for sex? So fucking what?!!

For some time the Fifty Shades of Grey books were on the VDOC’s disapproved publications list, but after a while and many complaints, the Publication Review Committee (PRC) changed that and now our libraries can have them. Out of curiosity I read all three books. They’re awful! How they became best sellers is beyond me. But, awful as they are, they should never have been disapproved for anything other than bad writing and saccharine plotting!

Even having something like a publication review committee strikes me as very un-American. You know, the old First Amendment and all that. The current disapproved publications list is many pages long in small print! And they pay people to be on the PRC!

My first bondage photography was with a beautiful young woman who modeled as Elkie Cooper. She’d been referred to me by a photographer friend in DC, and had just turned 18. She says I was her first real photographer. I photographed her for years. I loved her sense of humor; Her website said, “Elkie Cooper, The Other White Meat,” parodying the pork industry’s slogan. I hadn’t even thought about bondage until she sent me some bondage photos of her that another photographer had made. So we tried a bondage session, and got some good images. The only photos in my bondage book made on film are the photos of her. She also appears in the Rotovision book Erotic Photography, to which I contributed several images. A little later that year I booked Maria Shadoes for a shoot, not realizing she was heavily into bondage. She brought her friend Heather along, and I made a bunch of light bondage photos of the two of them. I wanted some of them in my bondage book, but the publisher didn’t like them and they were cut. Maybe someday I’ll do Volume Two and include them.

Then along came Marion and changed everything. I’d never before had a romantic relationship with a model. Of course there is always a measure of sexual tension between photographer and model, and that, in my experience, energizes the session and the resulting images. Some of the best nude photographs ever made are those of Charis Wilson that Edward Weston made, and, of course, they were lovers off camera. Weston’s best are full of erotic tension, even when they’re just bell peppers! I like to think that a similar tension inhabits my best photographs of Marion, bondage or not. To me, and I believe her previous boyfriends, Marion was sexual energy personified. She was like a runaway generator, shooting sparks to anyone nearby, male or female. She couldn’t have turned this off, even if she tried. Only one model I’ve worked with even came close, Tina Marie. Put her together with Marion, as we did, and the energy took over the photo shoot and comes through in those images.

I feel like I was at the peak of my creativity and craft in those bondage and fetish photographs I was making from 2002 until 2007. Then the state shut me down. Maybe one day I will be able to pick up where I left off. I’ve still got a lot of ideas for new images. Just set me free and I’ll go to it!

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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-the-evolution-of-photography/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Books, Erotica, Fetish, Models, Nudes, Photography, Popular Culture, women

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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