Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #23
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018
THE WEINSTEIN MATTER
Since the Harvey Weinstein matter surfaced in Hollywood, a number of people have asked me for my thoughts. I do have a somewhat unique perspective on the matter, being myself falsely accused of sexual offenses against my girlfriend and model, but not so accused by her. I won’t spend the time here telling my story. Anyone interested can read the whole story at: www.bobshelltruth.com, particularly the NEWS UPDATES page. Suffice it to say that I have never acted inappropriately with any model, and dozens of them will vouch for me on that. The police spent four years looking for a former model who would say anything bad about me and gave up. They had my records with model releases from everyone who modeled for me from 1969 until 2003! That’s 34 years and more than 200 models!
What amazed me when the Weinstein accusations came out was that anyone was surprised. This was Hollywood, after all, where the “casting couch” has been a ubiquitous feature since the early days. I’m only peripherally connected to the movie industry, but I’ve known about this for many years. After all, any industry that combines powerful Alpha Male type men with beautiful young women striving for their big break invites abuses. Now, as I read in the March issue of Vogue, the accusations have spread to the fashion photography world, with accusations by models against some of the top male photographers in the business. And according to the latest issue of PDN, the accusations have spread to instructors at prominent photo workshops. You get the impression that every man in a position of authority has misused that authority.
What has been lost in the current hysteria is the old American maxim of “innocent until proven guilty.”. Right now the field is wide open for people to settle old grudges that may have nothing to do with sex by making accusations of sexual misconduct. People are losing their jobs and careers over accusations that may never be proven. That’s wrong.
I’m not defending the pervasive culture in Hollywood or the fashion business, or anywhere else. Much harm has been done to many people. I’ve known a number of models and actresses, some of whom were successful in the movie business. Some have told me horror stories, but others have had positive experiences. There are some bad people in Hollywood (and in the photography business, and everywhere else in life), but there are also some very fine people. Let’s not tar everyone with the same brush.
Most of us know the sad story of Tippi Hedrin, who starred in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Hitch ruined her career after that because she refused to go to bed with him. But many other actresses launched successful careers with the support of producers and directors who respected them and treated them with dignity. Should Hitchcock have been ostracized by the industry for his despicable behaviour? Probably, but that’s water under the bridge. We can’t fix the past, but we can clean things up today.
One of the rules I always taught my workshop students is: Do not touch the model. I’ve had many students come to a workshop thinking that you pose a model by grabbing her and positioning her like a department store mannequin, and I’ve quickly disabused them of that idea. Even when working with models I’ve known and photographed for years I always observed that rule. To convey a particular pose I wanted, I’d assume the pose myself. Then, after the model stopped laughing, she knew exactly what I wanted, often improving on it by making it her own. I also kept a clip book, and whenever I saw a pose I particularly liked in a magazine, I’d cut it out and add it to the book. Show and tell rather than “grab and twist.”
The Weinstein matter has been portrayed in a one-sided manner, I think. While some industry men have been vilified for taking advantage of vulnerable young women (and men), sometimes it’s the other way ’round. I’ve had more than one model bat her pretty eyes at me and purr, “I’ll do anything to get published,” or the variant, “I’ll do anything for money.” My reply was always the same, “If you’re a really good model, I’ll publish (or pay) you. Nothing more required.”. And I’ve launched more than a few careers when they were good. The photos were satisfaction enough for me. I valued my reputation too much to compromise it. Models have a grapevine, after all, and talk to each other. I took great satisfaction from the fact that after I was arrested and charged and the story broadcast all over the Internet, I still had no trouble getting models to work with me. If they were hesitant, I just gave new models the email addresses of several of the models I’d worked with for years and said, “Check me out.”. They did, and none refused to work with me. I was able to finish my bondage book (which required a great deal of trust by the model in my total professionalism) and other books, as well as photo magazine and website articles, with no problems, using a mix of old and new models. If I could be released tomorrow, I have no doubt I could go right back to my photography without any problems finding models.
But to backtrack for a minute, being a very good artist, no matter what the medium, doesn’t mean a person is a decent man or woman. Read biographies of great artists, and you’ll find that many of them were not nice people. Some were horrible people. Artistic talent does not restrict itself to nice people. That’s as true today as ever. Should we discount a person’s art because he or she is a nasty, rotten person? To consider Hitchcock again, should we ignore the greatness of many of his films because he was personally despicable? I don’t claim to have the answer to that question. We must be careful, as the old saying goes, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
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: https://tonyward.com/2018/09/bob-shell-remembrances/