Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #34
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019
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!
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/