We invite you to join us for an exploration of human vulnerability and the timeless beauty of the unadorned form. “OBSESSIONS” is an ode to the human spirit, a celebration of the profound authenticity that lies with us.
Monsignor Luna sat at his desk in the rectory, surrounded by stacks of paperwork and an ever-growing to-do list. As he took a sip of coffee, he noticed a photograph on his bookshelf that he hadn’t looked at in some time.
In the photo, a woman stood behind him in prayer, her head bowed in reverence. In front of her, a nude woman sat on a bed of nails, legs and wrists shackled while looking away from the priest with dark eyes. Monsignor Luna shook his head, trying to clear his mind. How did this photo end up on his bookshelf?
He remembered the day it was taken. A woman had come to him for confession, seeking guidance and comfort in her faith. She was in tears, overcome by guilt and shame for her past sins. Monsignor Luna had listened with compassion, offering words of wisdom and hope.
As they prayed together, the door had opened and in walked a nude woman, claiming to be a model for a local artist. She had been drawn to the rectory by some unknown force, compelled to be in the presence of the popular religious leader.
At first, Monsignor Luna was taken aback by her presence. But then he felt a strange sensation, a feeling of power and control over the situation. He saw the women as two sides of the same coin, one representing sin and temptation, the other purity and faith.
He asked the women to pose for a photograph by a famous photographer friend who he commissioned to capture the vision in his mind for posterity. Now, as he looked at the photo, Monsignor Luna felt a sense of unease. Was this a moment of weakness or strength? Had he given in to temptation or overcome it?
He closed his eyes, praying for guidance and forgiveness. He vowed to use this photo as a reminder of the power of faith and the dangers of temptation. Monsignor Luna knew that he would never forget this moment and the lessons it taught him.
For years in the 1980’s and 1990’s I wrote for an industry publication named Photo Industry Reporter. Because it was for photographic dealers only, it didn’t conflict with my job as Editor In Chief at SHUTTERBUG, a consumer magazine.
I loved writing for Rudy Maschke and Ed Wagner, who owned and operated it. Both men are gone now. When both were in their 80’s they sold the magazine to Jerry Grossman, formerly an executive at Nikon. When the whole industry changed, the magazine changed, too. Now it’s named Digital Imaging Reporter (www.PIR.com). Because of my long history with the publication, they send it to me, and it helps keep me up on what’s happening in the photo industry.
In the latest issue, Jerry Grossman wrote an interesting editorial about the latest trend in photography — film. Yes, the younger generation has discovered the joys of film photography. So much so, in fact, that film is in short supply.
Pentax, one of the oldest camera manufacturers, and now part of Ricoh, has just announced a project to develop a new line of film cameras. Can the other camera makers be far behind?
Not so many years ago, used film cameras were very difficult to sell. Now prices on the classic film cameras from companies like Canon, Nikon, Minolta (now Sony’s camera division), Pentax, Olympus, Hasselblad, Mamiya, and many others are going up.
Maybe the ones I have in storage will have value when I’m able to sell them, or use them again.
This increased interest in film has revived its companion, darkroom work. A few years ago you couldn’t give away darkroom equipment. I know, I tried. I had a very elaborate darkroom with two enlargers, automated film and print processors, safelights, and everything else to process film and make prints. I tried to sell it all, with zero success.
If I still had it today, I could probably sell it easily.
The return of interest in film photography parallels the interest in vinyl LPs, turntables, tube amplifiers, all the audiophile stuff that was once called ‘Hi-Fi’. Many recording artists are issuing their music on vinyl today, some issuing only on vinyl. I can verify that vinyl albums played on quality turntables through tube amplifiers and topnotch speakers have a ‘warmer’ sound.
Similarly, images photographed on film with high quality lenses and printed on high quality photographic paper with a high silver content have a unique look that can’t be duplicated digitally.
With the return of darkroom, the old argument over which kind of enlarger will return. Are condenser enlargers that send a focused beam of light through the negative better than diffuser enlargers that bathe the negative in unfocused, diffuse light? Photographers used to argue about that late into the night. I’ve owned and used both, but preferred the diffusion systems because they produced smoother tones to my eye and suppressed dust on negatives, cutting down on laborious print spotting.
My two enlargers were a Zone VI 5 X 7 that used a cold light head, and a Saunders/LPL 4 X 5 that used interchangeable diffusers for different negative sizes. Much of my commercial work was made on 4 X 5 inch film with a Toyo studio camera or my 4 X 5 Zone VI field camera using Schneider-Kreuznach lenses. I tried other makes but couldn’t beat the image quality of the Schneiders. I also had an old Kodak 2D 8 X 10 camera made in 1918. I fitted it with a Voigtlander 300 mm Apo-Lanthar lens in a Compur Electronic shutter. Every once in a blue moon a client would want an 8 X 10 transparency.
Once a magazine demanded an 8 X 10 transparency. I photographed it in an all-day studio session on Fujichrome Velvia for maximum color punch. Believe me, an 8 X 10 Velvia on a lightbox will practically punch your eyes out. The results, a three-quarters view of a nude holding a bunch of flowers, was lovely. Then the magazine printed it about 1 X 1 1/4 inches on the page! I could have shot it in 35 mm and it would have looked fine at that size. I’d expected full page. Photo editors are strange beasts!
But, once again I seem to have drifted off topic. Due to the increased demand for film, film manufactures are working hard to meet demand. That’s not as easy as you might think, because film, particularly color film, can’t just me made, packaged, and shipped. Like fine whisky, film must be aged before sale. I’ve visited most of the major film makers and seen their aging vaults. I don’t know if they still do, but Kodak used to age their film deep underground in old salt mines. The temperature was constant down there, and the salt blocked most cosmic rays that can fog film, particularly high sensitivity films. Because of the need to scale up manufacturing again and the aging process, it may take film companies a while to catch up to greater demand. Be patient.
About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. 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 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell related to UFO’s, click here:https://tonyward.com/good-enough/
In 1997, I was assigned by Eliot Kaplan, then editor in chief of Philadelphia Magazine to create a series of photographs centered around the life and times of George Alexis Weymouth, better known as Frolich Weymouth for a series of articles that were to be published between the years 1997 -1998 in Philadelphia’s regional publication. Mr. Weymouth was an American artist, whip or stager, philanthropist and conservationist who lived on a sprawling estate called Big Bend in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Big Bend was just a short carriage ride to visit his long time friends; Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, who lived nearby on an equally impressive estate. Mr. Weymouth grew accustomed to seeing me at various events in the region, including the Devon Horse Show, Winterthur’s annual Point-to-Point steeplechase races and lavish private parties hosted by Mr. Weymouth at his historic homestead. I was often invited by Mr. Weymouth himself to photograph and mingle with many of his longtime friends. Jamie Wyeth’s wife Phyllis Wyeth, a close friend of Frolich’s, also came to know of my omnipresence in the region after she saw a portrait of her husband published in Philadelphia Magazine posing on a plastic horse with two female mannequins.
One day while on assignment photographing Jamie on his estate, a friend of mine (liason to the elites) suggested we go to Wilmington to visit a friend of his after the shoot with Jamie. The friend turned out to be Hunter Biden. Hunter had just bought his first home and my friend wanted to see it. We arrived at a fairly large single family colonial with a large pool table set up in what appeared to be the living room. We walked around the house and heard Hunter call us into the kitchen for a beer. After just a short time, Hunter’s phone rings. It was his dad, the senator checking in like he usually did when he arrived home from D.C. by train. They made small talk. Hunter hung up the phone and then around 15 minutes later Joe Biden came in to join us. We shook hands. He had a firm grip and a curiosity about who Hunter was with. Meeting Joe Biden impromptu like that left a positive impression of the man who would later become President.
At the turn of the century like many photographers at that time I started working with a digital camera. My assistant turned me on to one of the first, a Nikon Coolpix. I think it had about 5 megapixels and was best used for posting images on the internet or for making small exhibition prints.
I was shooting for Penthouse, Playboy and other adult magazines as well as mixing those shoots in with fashion and editorial assignments for Vibe, New York Magazine, and other mainstream publications. Editors started to require freelance photographers to start shooting with the new format. So I started to test shoot models with the new camera before taking on any big assignments.
I put the call out for a new face. I was introduced to this beautiful blond who will go by the name of Norma Rae Jean.
“Norma Rae was very much the Rockwellian version of the girl next door; a gorgeous blue eyed blond with full lips, hips and a nice size bosom.”
This is how I recall the way she was described to me by one of her friends, an adult model, who I knew and previously photographed. Our mutual friend arranged for us to meet at a nightclub where Norma Rae worked as a receptionist in center city Philadelphia. I always like to see for myself before making a commitment to photograph anyone new and it also takes the edge off whenever I work intimately with the new subject. Norma Rae had already shot for Playboy just a few months earlier so she was comfortable modeling nude.
A few days after our initial meeting, I arrived at Norma Rae’s apartment. As I recall, it was a high rise around 17th and Chestnut. Her place was filled with natural light and a few modernist pieces of furniture were sprinkled here and there presented a cozy minimalist atmosphere. The photos for this article were recently re-edited. Several are published for the first time.