Category Archives: Cameras

Bob Shell: Does Photography Have a Future?

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

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Does Photography Have a Future?

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about that question. The industry I devoted my life to studying and writing about is a ghost of what it once was. Every year for as long as I can remember the Photo Marketing Association was very important to the world of photography. Their annual trade show was one of the biggest, filling up two floors of the giant Las Vegas Convention Center. Now the PMA no longer holds a trade show at all, and they sold their office building in Jackson, Michigan, and operate with a skeleton crew out of rented offices. Why did this happen? The PMA membership was made up of independent camera stores, and how long has it been since you’ve seen one of those? People used to come to camera shops, like the ones I ran in the 70s and 80s not just to buy cameras, lenses, film, etc., but to talk photography. Many of my regular customers would just stop in to chat, even when they didn’t need anything. And I didn’t mind. That was how camera shops operated. But, already in the 70s we small independent dealers were under pressure from discounters. In those days K-Mart, J.C. Penny, Sears, Woolco, and others all had camera departments in their stores. And there were the mail order dealers that advertised very low prices in photo magazines. Often they were retailing cameras for less than my wholesale prices. How could they do that? Volume. While I might buy three or four cameras at a time, they would buy 144 or more. Of course a company that buys in volume like that has negotiating power to haggle the price down.

There was actually a lawsuit against the Pentax distributor over this, and the small dealers won to force the distributor to sell to all at the same price. Did this help the small dealer? Not really. The camera distributors got around it by offering the discount houses special camera models minus a feature or two (like having a top shutter speed of 1/500 second instead of 1/1000) at a lower price, special models that were only sold in large quantities. We small dealers had to offer services that the discounters didn’t offer, like knowing our stuff and taking time to chat with the customers. In my case, I also took the National Camera course and learned to repair cameras. I could offer in-house repairs, often on a while-you-wait basis. The discounters, if they offered repairs at all, had to ship cameras to repair services in big cities, which took weeks. I could repair things in a few hours or days unless I had to order parts. But I still faced the problem of maybe spending hours with someone showing them the features and functions of a camera, only to have them leave my shop and go straight to K-Mart and buy it. My time was worth nothing to people like that. I even had people buy the camera at a discounter and bring it to me when they had questions about its operation! What did I do? I patiently helped them, hoping that they would come back for film or accessories that the discounter didn’t keep in stock. It was a tough business to make a living in, but I loved it.

Today the few independent dealers that are left face new challenges. Offering in-house repair of digital cameras is not practical for the small dealer. The specialized equipment (often brand specific) is just too expensive. When I repaired cameras, I was a mechanic. I worked on gears, levers, and springs. The tools were small, but essentially no different from those of a car mechanic (I also did all my own car work, but with larger tools!) Today cameras have become “camputers,” as Bert Keppler called them. You need to be an electronics/computer technician, not a mechanic, to fix them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love digital cameras, and was an early and enthusiastic adopter of digital imaging. It has taken many burdens from the photographer’s shoulders, but it has hurt the small dealer, whose bread and butter was selling film and providing photo processing. That’s gone, leaving the dealer to survive on hardware sales, cameras, lenses, filters, flash units, tripods, etc. I would not try to make it today as an independent camera shop, and neither would most people, which is why the independent dealers have largely vanished.

Now, those few that remain face a whole new threat. My old friend Jack King, who used to own Camera World in Charlotte, N.C., got a patent years ago on the idea of putting a camera into a telephone. He tried in vain to get any company interested in the idea. “Nobody would want a camera in their telephone!” they all said. Well, they were all wrong! Nowadays everybody wants a camera in their telephone. Unfortunately for Jack, his patent expired years before the first camera was put into a cellphone. Otherwise he’d be fabulously wealthy today.

But now everyone’s a photographer, snapping away at anything and everything. And the quality of some of these tiny cameras is better with every generation. Last year Rolling Stone and Traveler ran covers taken with cellphone cameras.

But, do we need to photograph anything and everything? Much of what is photographed with cellphone would be better left undocumented, particularly when the person holding the phone is drunk or high. We face a glut of largely worthless images. Is this lowering the perceived value of serious photography? And will there even be a profession in the future known as “photographer?”. I don’t have the answers to these questions, but they deserve serious thought from anyone contemplating a career in photography.

What’s next for photography? I recently saw some images in a science magazine made by tapping into a person’s brain waves. They were somewhat blurry, but you could tell what they were. Will we have direct capture from a person’s visual cortex? I suspect, like many things, this technology will be here sooner rather than later. People can then dispense with cameras altogether. Prepare for future shock!

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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.  He is serving the 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/offense/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

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Picture of the Day: Ike’s Study

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

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Ike’s Study

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I visited Ike Hay at his home on many occasions.  He was a great teacher of art and design at Millersville University where we first met when I was an undergraduate student from 1974 to 1977. I took several classes with him as he was a great teacher of art and design.  Ike’s first love was sculpture, but he had other interests as well.  Ike was a collector of Empire furniture and a significant amount of his scholarship was defined by his love for French culture, especially French antiquities and an emphasis on the history of Napoleon Bonaparte, the great French military leader and emperor of France. Ike’s study was a place where we often chatted about art and also life. He became a lifelong friend and confidant until his untimely passing in 2014 at the age of 69.  When I began the project of a book of Tableaux Vivants,  I selected Ike’s study as one of the nostalgic places I wanted to photograph because of my longstanding friendship with Ike and his family. So one summer day in 1994, I packed up my gear with models in tow and traveled from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he lived with his wife Teri and his daughters Miraya and Mistral. On this particular occasion I decided to shoot in black and white and in color, an unusual departure for me at the time. 

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To see selected works from the book of Tableaux Vivants, click herehttps://tonyward.com/early-work/tableaux-vivants-1993-2000/

 

 

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Picture of the Day: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas 1980

Caesars Palace Las Vegas 1980. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 1980

 

Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

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When I first started my professional career in 1980 as a staff photographer for the behemoth pharmaceutical company, Smithkline & French I was assigned to photograph executives for the company at a sales meeting held in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I booked a hotel room at the casino in the over the top Liberace suite. For those readers who are unfamiliar with Liberace, he was a flamboyant pianist, singer and actor who performed regularly in Las Vegas and around the world until his death in 1987. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the suite, but I remember there was lots of red, and a giant mirror hanging on the ceiling over the master bed! This was quite the introduction to sin city.

After I got settled in, I loaded my camera with film to take a walk around the premises to take some pictures. As I entered an elevator to head down to the lobby, Roberto Duran was in the elevator. I noticed his large infamous “hands of stone” as he was also staying at the hotel for a fight against another great boxing champion, Sugar Ray Leonard.  This was the type of place where people watching was also a sport, especially by the outdoor pool where guests  enjoyed Pina Coladas while soaking in the blistering desert sun. 

This was the casino that became famous not only for the prize fights that were held there, but it was also where a dare devil on a motorcycle by the name of Evil Knievel staged his dramatic leaps in the air over the outdoor fountains at an unimaginable distance. This picture was taken on a walkway leading guests from a parking lot to the main entrance. 

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To access additional photos from the early days of my career, click herehttps://tonyward.com/early-work/

 

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Close Ups: 1990’s

Club Kid. Philadelphia, 1997. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

 

 

Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

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Close Up’s: 1990’s

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During the early 1990’s, I purchased what would eventually become an indispensable piece of equipment for my portrait photography, the ring flash.  This unique flash lamp that creates shadowless light on a subjects face at close range intrigued me from the first time I saw it being employed by fashion photographers beginning in the 1960’s. My work as an editorial photographer evolved in part because I developed a style of portraiture based on my use of the ring flash that captivated the attention of various picture editors at large circulation magazines including Vibe, New York, George, Cosmopolitan, Penthouse, and Max magazine in Europe.  

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To access the complete portfolio of this body of work, click herehttps://tonyward.com/early-work/close-ups-1990s/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Diary, Documentary, Early Work, Film, lifestyle, Men, Models, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Travel

Ed Simmons: Dancing Girls Harvard and Stone

 

Photography and Text by Ed Simmons, Copyright 2020

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Dancing Girls Harvard and Stone

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Chuck E Weiss. Yeah, I knew that guy. The dude from that Rickey Lee Jones tune, “Chuck E’s In Love”. I was hanging around with him back in the early 80’s at Hollywood’s Club Lingeri.  I read in the LA Weekly a few years back, that Chuck E Weiss was playing a late night set at The Piano Bar on Selma Avenue in Hollywood, so I go on down to check it out.

I bet around about now, you may be wondering how in the hell does this tie into “Dancing Girls”.  Austin was the door man at the Piano Bar that night, a Nigerian with one punch biceps, tells me that on Sundays, this spot, The Piano Bar, barbecues out back, and that I should start stopping by on a regular basis with my camera. I do and we become good friends.  As a photographer, the Sunday afternoon crowd at the Piano Bar was so interesting, so friendly and open to me, but like all slices of life in LA, this ends too before long.

Austin also informed he would be working the door at a spot in East Hollywood’s Thai Town, called Harvard and Stone, that I should start showing up there,  bring the camera, Austin, a bit of a ham…likes being photographed Hollywood ya know. This spot is sorta dark, I’ve got a pretty hot camera, I figure I can hang and see what unfolds. The location is built somewhat like a Hollywood set, lots of interesting industrial architectural treatments, a couple of bars, a smoking area in the back, a stage, live music, shoulder to shoulder people,  and very hard to move around this place, no tension though, everybody’s having fun!  

 One night, I’m  hanging by the front bar at Harvard and Stone chatting it up a bit with Yale, she’s cool, mostly says she bartends at the Hollywood Roosevelt, on this nite she was just filling in. The House Band steps onto the stage and start playing this raunchy tune with a filthy beat, then out from nowhere it seems as if dancing girls started to rain down through the rafters. They start dancing across the catwalks and bar, then down on to the stage. I was shocked, well… surprised,  I didn’t have a clue and couldn’t move. This crowd was thick, shoulder to shoulder.  Hell, no one in this mob was willing to give me an inch as I clicked away.

 The show ends, so I search out Austin as the crowd begins to thin out. He sees my look and ask’s well, did you get anything good? I’m like dude, I couldn’t even move but managed to get some great shots!

Two shows go on, Friday and Saturday nights.  I found the house always full, as I worked through a few months of making images at this venue, I found a need to pre plan. Photographing these dancing girls, week to week, nite by nite I had to pick my spot. If you are a photographer in LA its best to be friendly with door men.

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Ed Simmons photographed by Bonnie Schiffman. Copyright 1972

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About The Author: Ed Simmons is a documentary photographer and assistant to Tony Ward, based in Los Angeles, California. To access additional articles by Ed Simmons, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/ed-simmons-venice-beach-trashed/

 

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