Category Archives: commentary

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.

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Fetish, Film, lifestyle, Models, Nudes, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel, women

Steve Cohen: Frank Gehry’s Spectacular Architecture


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Text by Steve Cohen, Copyright 2020

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Photo Credits: Frank Gehry Studio and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

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When the most flamboyant architect in the world was awarded the job of redesigning the interior —  just the interior —  of the Philadelphia Art Museum, the choice appeared to be puzzling.

Frank Gehry’s fame comes from spectacular curvaceous structures covered with reflective metal, but he will not be able to alter anything on the exterior of this building. Therefore the assignment seemed like a mis-match. Or could it be a brilliant upsetting of expectations?

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“So you want to know why I’d do a project where nothing will show on the outside? Because what’s always been important to me is the inside, the purpose, the function,” Gehry told me in an interview in November of 2007, right after the assignment was announced..

Gehry’s challenge at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was to create new spaces for art and for visitors without disturbing the classic exterior of a building that is a landmark in Philadelphia. He is in charge of excavating under the Museum’s east side on the hill of Fairmount, and will renovate the Museum’s existing interiors. A 60% increase in the museum’s public space is anticipated, with 80,000 additional square feet.

I point out to Gehry that he’s been criticized as a proponent of the DeCon Movement in architecture, the deconstructionist movement that gives more importance to impressive exteriors than to functional necessity.

“That just isn’t true,” he cheerfully argues. “Everything I design is from the inside. All my projects started with the function. Disney (the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) started with the sound of the orchestra, and Bilbao started with the gallery. And my buildings do function. Just ask any of my clients.”

“To say that what I care about most is the exterior look is wrong. Thank you for giving me a chance to rebut what those people say. When I was a kid, people said that I killed Christ, and that wasn’t true either.”

Before the Disney concert hall, Gehry had never been hired for a large, expensive building. “I heard that one of the Disney people said he’d never set foot in the building if it was designed by Gehry, and I remembered the reputation Walt Disney had for being anti-Semitic.”

Despite all his acclaim, Gehry often feels vulnerable and afraid. For example, afraid to wish for things because he fears he won’t get them. “I’m always scared,” he says. Of what? “Scared that I won’t know what to do when I start a job, for instance.” And he’s aware of negative things that are said about him.

These qualities are endearing. Friends describe him as a Columbo, shuffling and self-effacing. He confirms that. “I want to be a nice guy, the aw-shucks type, but inside I’m competitive as hell.”

“Some people say that I repeat myself. That Disney and Bilbao are similar. But they’re not. I’ve been careful not to repeat myself. Disney and Bilbao have different shapes, different functions. Even the metal isn’t the same.” Gehry goes on to observe that sculptors use plaster and painters use canvas but that scarcely indicates that all their work looks alike.

Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, completed in 1997, is such a stunning achievement that it’s what people see in their minds when they hear his name. The architect concedes that maybe some people hire him because they expect another Bilbao, “but I tell them it’s not what I do. What you want from a building is that the public likes it and that it functions.”

Anne d’Harnoncourt, former director of the Philadelphia museum, said: “The decision to hire him was based on the exceptional range of Gehry’s accomplishments, his love of art, admiration for our collections, respect for the neoclassical building, and the firm’s success even in smaller projects, such as the renovations to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena where the hand of the architect is discreet yet wonderfully sensitive to the needs of great works of art.”

Gehry told me that he sought this project because he loves Philadelphia and he respected d’Harnoncourt. “I resonate with its collections, and Anne is one of the best museum directors in the world.” [d’Harnoncourt died unexpectedly at the age of 64 in June of 2008.]

“I always wanted to do something in Philadelphia. It’s an architects’ city. I look up to Bob Venturi; he’s a mentor and I treasure my friendship with Bob and Denise (Venturi’s wife and partner.) I attended lectures by Louis Kahn and we spoke afterwards. I loved his work. Ed Bacon was a hero of mine in the area of city planning.”

This grouping is a bit surprising when you realize how Bacon and Kahn disliked each other and criticized each other’s plans. Gehry’s choices also surprise because Kahn was hailed for emphasizing the pipes, ducts and other inner functions of buildings and Venturi has been complimented for his “modest, self-effacing” architecture while Gehry’s work fits neither of these descriptions.

“Our architecture is different,” says Venturi, “but we are good friends. We — Denise and I — would have liked to have gotten the job but, since we didn’t, I’m glad Frank did. He’s a noble person, kind, intelligent, understanding.” Speaking at his headquarters in Manayunk, the Philadelphia-born Venturi says that he and his wife became friends of Gehry when they all lived in Santa Monica forty years ago. Fifty years ago, Venturi worked in Kahn’s office on Walnut Street in Philly.

There are parallels between the careers of Kahn and Gehry. Both were Jewish immigrants to the USA (Kahn from Estonia, Gehry from Canada.) Both toiled for years before they received sudden acclaim in middle age and went on to international stardom.

“I told Anne that I’d like to do this project many years ago,” says Gehry. “I wanted Philadelphia but I never pursued the subject after that one conversation. I tried to push it from my mind. I’m superstitious. I don’t yearn for things because I know I won’t get them. When you go after something, you get rejected. So don’t ask me what type of projects are on my wish list.”

Still, under gentle pressure from me, he discloses one thing on his wish list. He admits that he always wanted to design a synagogue and has not yet had a chance to do so.

Frank Gehry was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1929. He drew a picture of Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, at his Hebrew school and the rabbi told his mother, in Yiddish, that young Frank had goldene hent, golden hands. When he was 17 his family moved to California where his dad worked as a truck driver. For three years Frank also drove a delivery truck and studied at Los Angeles City College before graduating from the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture. When he was 24 and newly married, Frank changed his last name from Goldberg to Gehry to counteract the anti-Semitism that he saw in the architectural establishment.

He and a partner ran a commercial architecture firm that designed homes and small businesses, then began to build stores for the Kay Jewelry chain and large malls for the Rouse company in Maryland. “Shopping centers don’t give much leeway; everything’s proscribed. At my home in Santa Monica I had freedom to be creative and try new ideas.” [Gehry’s design for his own home was radical; some critics said it looked like a pile of junk.]

“The CEO of Rouse, Mathias DeVito, pointed out that what I did at my home was the direction I should take. I took his advice and I resigned the Rouse account. I let 45 people go and reduced my staff to three people.”

His home and the buildings he designed in the 1980s feature rudimentary construction materials, throwaway things like corrugated metal and chain link, and random objects arranged artistically. His use of corrugated steel and chain link was partly inspired by spending Saturday mornings at his grandfather’s hardware store.

He feels that a breakthrough came in 1989 when he designed the thrusting, soaring, Vitra furniture museum in Weil-am-Rhein in southwestern Germany, that juxtaposed curved shapes with rectilinear ones. From there, his work became bigger, broader, wilder.

His buildings look like sculpture. When he was young he liked to make things with his hands but says he never had aspirations to sculpt or paint. “I have sculpture on an emotional pedestal. I revere artists and sculptors; they’re like my Holy Book. But I wouldn’t dare to try it myself. Sure, I create shapes, but the ones I produce are to keep heat in and the water out, to support the walls, to enclose utilities.” Self-effacingly, he concludes: “If it has plumbing it can’t be art, can it?”

Many of Gehry’s buildings are museums and concert halls. He always has loved art and music, and artists who know him since the 1960s say they always saw him at exhibits and at parties. “I have artists and musicians as friends,” he explains, “because they’re outside the politics of my profession. With them I can be an observer instead of a participant. There’s less pressure.”

In the early 1960s Gehry hung out with the rebellious young artists who were known as the Cool School in Los Angeles. Their work often was described as abstract expressionism but there were many individualistic variations. Frank, with long hair, a droopy mustache and a cigar, partied with them and attended their exhibitions. “I grew from here to there (reaching ‘way up) because I spent time with them,” Gehry says.

His artist friends included people like Jasper Johns, Bob Rauschenberg, Ed Kienholz, Claes Oldenburg, Julian Schnabel. “They were working with very inexpensive materials — broken wood and paper, and they were making beauty. They made beauty with junk. That inspired me. I began to explore the processes of raw construction materials to try giving feeling and spirit to form.”

Gehry’s love of music came from his mother, who studied violin and took him to concerts when he was a child. In 1970 he got a contract to redesign the Hollywood Bowl and its director, Ernest Fleischman, introduced him to Zubin Mehta (then the conductor of the LA Philharmonic) and “through Mehta I got to know the Israeli mafia” — Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and Jacqueline DuPre — who performed and socialized with each other.

“Contemporary music interests me most. John Adams. Boulez and his friends. The electronic composers. Metaphorically, they try to answer the same questions I have: How do you react to changing conditions? How do you adapt to a changing world filled with disparity and inequality?”                          .

Before the Disney hall, Gehry designed the Merriweather Post Pavilion of Music in Columbia, Maryland, and the Concord Amphitheatre in northern California. More recently he designed a lovely little concert hall on the campus of Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley.

The music directors of the San Francisco and Los Angeles symphonies are among his pals. Gehry worked closely with Esa Pekka Salonen in the development of the Disney Hall. And Gehry and his first wife used to babysit for Michael Tilson Thomas when Thomas’s parents lived in the San Fernando Valley. Now Gehry is designing a concert hall for MTT’s New World Symphony in Miami.

Because of his lifelong connection with music and his friendships with musicians, Gehry reacted strongly when I brought up the subject of Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center: “It’s lazy to design a hall that has movable parts to change the sound of the music. Flexible, movable walls are in vogue but it’s intellectually dishonest because no one has 500 years’ experience playing that instrument. Making musical instruments, however, has that background and that tradition. An architect should design, to the best of his ability, an auditorium that will enhance the sound of an orchestra and then the players and the conductor will make their own adjustments. Musicians adjust to the room.”

The Walt Disney Concert Hall does not have movable panels, flaps, baffles or anything of that sort. “It’s all fixed. Nothing moves. The interior is a box because that reflects sound the best. Then I covered the outside of that rectangle with large curved panels, like sails.”

He is glad that a major part of his Philadelphia Museum redesign will be making a space for the museum’s contemporary collection. Although Gehry will leave no imprint on the outside of the building, look for unusual design and wall treatments inside. “I hate sterilized white cubes and the artists don’t like it either. Everybody has been making galleries with plain white walls and it’s time for things to change.”

One example of Gehry’s design for an art museum is the MARTa museum in Herford, Germany, which has nary a rectangular wall. Interior shapes range from trapezoidal to curved, using the colors of blue, yellow, grey and off-white with contrasting textures ranging from soft to reflective.

Gehry says that his walls are more flattering to the art that hangs on them: “I could show you love letters that I’ve gotten from artists.” Julian Schnabel is one who says: “I feel comfortable in his spaces. I want to stick my stuff in there.”

His work is so popular that Gehry’s firm now employs a staff of 150. Frank travels a good part of the year and when he is at his office in LA he runs between client meetings, contractor meetings, phone calls and design sessions. On the road, he carries tracing paper so he can create new designs on site. When he was in Philadelphia for a week he spent his time exploring the art museum and meeting with its staff, turning down requests for media interviews and photo sessions.

He says he’ll start slowing down now that he’s  80, in 2009. “But I love my work, I love what I’m doing. I don’t ever want to retire. I have friends who retired and I could see their deterioration when they left their profession.”

When asked why he has taken on new, commercial projects such as designing jewelry for Tiffany, he says: “Do you mean, why did I sell out? I didn’t seek it but I went along with it because I can play with my children, so-to-speak. It’s one-on-one between the idea and the craft. I’m designing three-dimensional objects, working directly. Vases, silverware, candlesticks and jewelry have a visceral gratification, and I do all those things for Tiffany, not just jewelry. Architects throughout history have designed jewelry; there’s nothing wrong about it.”

His real-life children are daughters in their fifties and sons in their thirties from Gehry’s second marriage. The older boy is an artist and the younger is interested in architecture.

He says that his buildings are like his children, but with a difference: “After they’re done I’ll see them only three or four more times in my life!”

Among his many buildings, Gehry spoke especially fondly of what he called “my Israeli project,” the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. Gehry said the project had awakened memories of his grandfather who taught him about the Talmud and Zionism. ”If you’re raised a Jewish kid, Israel’s the most important place in the world where there’s some sense of belonging when all else fails.”

But in 2010 Gehry withdrew from the project amid controversy over the fact that the museum was to be built on the site of a former Muslim cemetery. (He had no input on the location.) The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the project had to be radically changed because of what it called “the affront to the honor of the dead as a constitutional right.”

The American architect and critic Michael Sorkin had stirred up opposition when he claimed in Architectural Record that the Gehry design’s use of large, irregular stone blocks ”uncomfortably evokes the deconstruction of Yasir Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah into a pile of rubble by Israeli security forces.”

The end of this project left Gehry feeling unfulfilled and angry.

More recently, in 2014 two significant museums designed by Gehry opened: the Biomuseo in Panama City, Panama, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, a modern art museum in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris. In February 2015 a new building for the University of Technology in Sydney opened, with a facade constructed from more than 320,000 hand-placed bricks and glass slabs.

Gehry said he drew inspiration from folds in the skin and clothing. Some say it resembles a “squashed brown paper bag.” He responded, “Maybe it’s a brown paper bag, but it’s flexible on the inside, so there’s a lot of room for changes or movement.”

Sir Peter Cosgrove, Australia’s Governor-General, described it fondly as “the most beautiful squashed brown paper bag I’ve ever seen. It’s bold, it’s inspiring and the traditional notions of hallowed sandstone quadrangles, spires and large lecture halls as symbols of tertiary education have been reinvented, reinterpreted and reinvigorated by the building.” 

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Steven Cohen

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Editor’s Note: This is a repost with permission granted by the author, Steve Cohen. For additional access to Steve Cohen’s writings on art, theater, music, books and travel, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/steve-cohen-louis-kahn-and-i/

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To access Mr. Cohen’s web site, click herehttp://theculturalcritic.com

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, lifestyle, Men, News, Popular Culture, 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/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Glamour, lifestyle, Models, News, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel, women

Bob Shell: What’s in a Name?

Portrait of Marion Franklin by Bob Shell. Copyright 2020

 

Photography and Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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What’s in a Name?

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I’m reading a very interesting book: Ancient History of Aratta-Ukraine by Yuri Shilov. I’ve read a lot of books on ancient history, but had never heard of Aratta, so when my friend Ed told me about this book, I just had to read it. Most traditional historians believe that writing originated with the Sumerian culture, but this book sets forth convincing evidence that writing originated much earlier in Aratta, in what today is Ukraine, perhaps as early as 20,000 BCE. The problem I’m having in reading the book is that the Ukrainians have recently changed all the names of places. Kiev is now Kyiv! Ruegen Island is now Ruyan. The Dnieper River is now Dnipro. The Dniester River has become the Dnistro. And so on, and because the book is translated from the Russian original, some of the maps are labeled in Cyrillic. The book is lavishly illustrated in black and white, and will fascinate anyone interested in ancient history who makes the effort to read it.

There’s an old song that goes something like:

Take me back to Constantinople,

No you can’t go back to Constantinople,

Now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople,

Why did Constantinople get the works?

That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

I guess we should say the name changes are nobody’s business but the Ukrainians. But it sure can be confusing to an outsider trying to figure out where places mentioned in the text actually are. I have the same problem with India, where Bombay became Mumbai, and how did Burma become Myanmar and Rangoon turn into Yangon? I have a nice little Atlas I bought several years ago, but it hasn’t caught up with the dissolution of Yugoslavia or any of the more recent name changes. I think any book for outsiders should have the old name in parentheses after the new name, at least the first time it appears — Yangon (Rangoon).

Anyway, it seems that the Ukrainian legislature passed a law in 1995 requiring the use of the new names. But the Arsenal Factory certainly didn’t change the names of their cameras from Kiev to Kyiv! I have a collection of their cameras, many made after 1995, and the export versions all bear the KIEV nameplates. Those for domestic sale within the old USSR are marked KNEB with the N backwards, the equivalent of an “I” in the Cyrillic alphabet used by most of the countries of the former USSR, which looks like CCCP, but is actually SSSR. I had to learn the Cyrillic alphabet when I started collecting Soviet cameras in the 80s, so I’d know things like what looks like Zopkuu is actually Zorkii.

The folks at the Kiev factory struggled to make good products under the old Soviet system. My late friend Saul Kaminsky was the official US distributor of Ukrainian, Russian, Belarussian, etc., cameras, lenses, and other optical products. His company in Connecticut was called Kiev USA. He told me a story that once he went by the factory in Kiev to check on a shipment and found the factory shut down because there was no electricity. He located the manager who explained that the electric plant had no coal, so was shut down. He then went to the electric plant and they said they had no money to buy coal. So he went to the coal company and bought a trainload of coal that was delivered to the electric plant where they fired up the generators, and sent electricity to the camera factory, where the cameras Saul needed were then made. That’s how business was frequently done in the old USSR! One day Saul called me: “Bob, could I interest you in a hotel in Kiev?”. It seems that someone there owed him money and was trying to settle the debt with this hotel! Of course he knew I’d have no interest in a Ukrainian hotel, no matter how cheap! Selling cameras from the USSR was a sideline he’d stumbled into during travel for his real job, lighting technician for CNN. Saul used to say to me that I made him famous from my Shutterbug articles about his products. I used a number of his Soviet cameras over the years with good results, and have a bunch of them in storage right now. One of my first cameras was a Zenit B bought from the old Cambridge Camera Exchange in 1969 for $ 49.95 with 50mm f/2 Helios lens and leather case. The negatives I shot with that old beast are super sharp and contrasty. The folks in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, etc. knew how to make good lenses.

This goes back to the end of WW II. The USSR troops, mostly Russian, took over the eastern part of Germany. They took the Zeiss-Ikon factory in Dresden, dismantled it, loaded it onto a train, and shipped it, lock, stock, and barrel, to Kiev. They also took the best Zeiss technicians. When I first learned of this in the 80s, many of those men were still living in and near Kiev, where they’d settled down, married, and raised families, and didn’t want to leave. Many of the first generation of Kiev cameras were built from German parts taken from Dresden.

The other best known Soviet cameras are the Fed series. The name Fed comes from the initials of Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB, who wanted a quality camera to give his men. He had a factory set up to build the Fed camera, a part by part copy of a Leica. I don’t have my reference books here, but I believe they copied a Leica IIIa. I have around a dozen Fed cameras of different vintages. All are capable of taking excellent pictures. I also have a number of Russian fake Leica cameras, which enterprising Russians made from Fed cameras to sell to unsuspecting tourists. One of them is so good only an expert would know it wasn’t a real Leica. Saul picked most of them up for me on his trips to Russia and Ukraine. He also knew of my interest in mechanical watches and brought me a couple Shtermanskyi (Navigator) chronometers, the same watch Yuri Gagarin wore into space. They keep very accurate time but must be wound once a day. One has a rotating bezel for travel, and I used it for years in my trips to keep track of local time and time back home.

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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://tonyward.com/bob-shell-on-the-legal-front/ 

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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Studio News: A Return to Teaching

A Photography Critique at Haverford College. Photo: Dan Burns

 

Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

After a two year hiatus from teaching, I have accepted an invitation as visiting instructor of Fine Arts at Haverford College. On December 17th, 2019 my first meeting with photography students took place at the Jane Lutnick Fine Arts Center. My colleague Professor William Williams asked me to join him for a final critique of student work performed during the fall semester. In preparation for lecturing at Haverford I am currently reading, Criticizing Photographs by Terry Barrett. I look forward to the opportunity of teaching a color course with these bright exceptional students at Haverford beginning this month.

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About Tony Ward:

Tony Ward began his professional career in 1980 as a corporate photographer for the pharmaceutical giant, Smithkline Corporation.  After several years of working in the department of corporate communications for Smithkline, he opened the Tony Ward Studio in Philadelphia, to service a variety of Fortune 500 companies and smaller business entities.

His personal work and research during the past 25 years has been rooted in exploring the visual cross sections of fashion and erotic photography by capturing the impact the sexual revolution of the 1960’s had on advertising and in particular magazine publishing.  His first book of photography, Obsessions with forward by A.D. Coleman was his first attempt at challenging the lines drawn between Art and Obscenity by questioning social mores, existing laws, and the evolution of photographic imagery that is viewed as inappropriate in some cultures and acceptable in others. He is particularly interested in further examining the first amendment right to freedom of expression and the impact censorship has had on the evolution of photography’s history.

To access Tony Ward’s curriculum vitae, click here:https://tonyward.com/about/

 

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