Category Archives: Photography

Bob Shell: Finally Something Good to Report

Prison. Photo: Julie Chu Cheong, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Finally Something Good to Report

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Finally something good to report! In early January, I was transferred to the GLU (Good Living Unit, pronounced like ‘glue’). It’s for people who don’t cause trouble, and there are 88 of us out of a population of a thousand. You have to be charge-free for a year to get in, and I’ve been charge-free for almost three years.  Nobody will steal from me here, and I won’t be attacked. It’s great to be able to relax for a change.

We get incentives to be good. Once a month we get a pastry, cookie, etc., we have a small library of books we can read, we go to chow first every day, and every weekend we see recent movies on one of our big HD TVs. Recently, we saw Once Upon A Time: In Hollywood, which I found very slow-paced and way too long. The whole mood of this pod is radically different from others I’ve been in.

I take Celebrex twice a day for arthritis, and have to stand outdoors in a long line to get it, regardless of the weather. All my other pills are ‘self med,’ which means they give me a thirty day supply to keep in my cell and take every day. In the year and a half that I was at River North, I had Celebrex as self med, but here at Pocahontas they won’t let me have it that way. Pocahontas is security level 2/3, while River North is 4/5. So it makes no sense that I can’t have my Celebrex as self med here.

Recently, I stood in line for more than forty-five minutes to get my morning pill, the temperature below freezing, in a mix of rain and snow. I complained about having to do this for a single pill, and took my complaint all the way to the VDOC head office in Richmond, who said my complaint was ‘unfounded.’ Standing out in the weather aggravates my arthritis, the very thing the pill is for.

But, that’s typical of the VDOC. When I first came into the system back in 2008, I was complaining to a Sergeant about some policy. He said, “Mr. Shell, your problem is that you expect things to make sense. This is the DOC. NOTHING MAKES SENSE! Get that through your head and you’ll do just fine.” He was right, nothing in the system makes sense.

I read recently in Prison Legal News magazine (www.prisonlegalnews.org) about a man in another state who was given a belt by prison staff, and later given a charge for having it. Reminded me of the time I wrote a letter to a lawyer on a prison law library typewriter, and was given a charge for doing it, even though that’s one of the stated purposes of the typewriters. I was kicked out of the law library for six months over that! I appealed, of course, but my appeals were denied at every level. So that ridiculous charge is still on my record, and I was set back six months in my legal work to get my false convictions overturned.

My book COSMIC DANCE has received many positive reviews. If you haven’t read it yet, please buy and read it. It’s on Amazon under my name, also available from www. odalysllc.com, the company that did the grunt work on it and got it published.

I’m in good company. Amazon recently signed Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell to write books directly for them, bypassing traditional publishers. This move has publishers terrified, and for good reason. Amazon can get a book into its distribution channels faster than regular publishers. Unfortunately, it’s another nail in the coffin of independent bookstores, who won’t have access to these books. I love the bookstore experience. Browsing online just can’t touch it. When I was in college at Virginia Tech, I worked in an independent bookstore, and have fond memories.

I go up for geriatric parole again in March. So far I’ve gone up before the parole board eight times, and been turned down eight times. I’m a perfect candidate for parole, and was dismayed by all these turndowns, until I figured it out. Someone is sabotaging my parole attempts. I don’t know who it is, but I have my suspicions. Probably the same person who kept going onto my Wikipedia bio page and putting lies on there. Research has indicated that this was Marion’s aunt, who still must believe the nonsense spouted at my trial by the medical examiner. I’ve had proof that his testimony was nonsense, to use a polite word for it, for some time in the form of statements from prominent pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht and Dr. William T. Gormley, Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia. Anyone who hasn’t read it should go to my website, www.bobshelltruth.com and read Dr. Gormley’s interview. I’ve sent this to the Parole Board several times, but they choose to ignore it.

Dr. Gormley did tests that proved conclusively that Marion was never dead in my presence, disproving the prosecutor’s idiotic theory that she was dead the last time we had sex. I’ve never had sex with any woman who was not a fully aware consenting adult in my entire long life. I’m 73 as of last December, and my reputation on that score was unblemished until the Radford cops and prosecutors set out to destroy me. Their reasons were political, having absolutely nothing to do with any alleged crimes.

Many of you continue to ask about and wish me well in my quest to get my precious forest back. The case is still in court, but a lawyer suggested a new tactic to me, and I’m pursuing it. I’m going after the two lawyers involved in the sale, whose actions were certainly unethical, possibly illegal. I will pursue this to the end, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs.

On another topic, most of the contents of my photography studio are in a rented storage unit. Some of you have already helped me keep the monthly rent paid, but any who haven’t and are willing to help, please let me know and I’ll let you know how to help. All my contact info is on my website, www. bobshelltruth.com , the website friends built for me

Until next time, my friends, you have all my best wishes.

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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/photography/

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, Documentary, Film, Men, Politics, Popular Culture

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, commentary, Documentary, Fetish, Film, lifestyle, Models, Nudes, Popular Culture, Travel, women

Repost: Charles Gatewood Interview

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Unfortunately, I never got a chance to meet Charles Gatewood in person. I was familiar with his subcultural work from his books, magazine assignments, and exhibitions. I admired his anthropologic curiosity and his  significant contributions to the medium of photography and its history. We got to know each other on social media and began corresponding via email until his untimely death on April 29, 2016,  a result of a fall from his third floor apartment in San Francisco. He left several suicide notes.  This is a repost of an interview I conducted with Mr. Gatewood in 2011. His legend continues to live on.

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TW: What do you find most compelling about the medium of Photography?

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CG: I’m a card-carrying voyeur, and my exotic subjects excite me. My camera is a passport to adventure and creative fun. I am my own boss. I have never had a “job.” I travel the world, do whatever I please, photograph famous people, and have kinky sex with beautiful punkettes. ‘Nuff said!

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TW: You have covered a variety of  subject areas in your involvement in Photography.  Which of these subject areas to you find the most compelling and  worthy of further exploration?

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CG: I’ve been photographing almost fifty years, and I’ve covered lots of subjects. Most of my work is about people and behavior, and I’ve spent many years documenting alternative culture in all its ragged glory. My extended photo essays include 60s counterculture, rock and roll (I shot for Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy), the radical sex community, and tattooing, piercing and body art (I helped launch the “new tribalism” movement by sparking the RE/Search book Modern Primitives). I also did lots of traditional photojournalism in the 60s and 70s.

One of my favorite extended photo essays is Wall Street, shot between 1972-1976. This work is more formal, and more about social conditioning, societal control, corporate excess, and fascist architecture. Which subjects do I find most compelling today? Barely-legal girls, ha ha.

TW: How do you think the medium of photography has impacted popular culture at large?

Are you serious?

CG: What was it like to encounter William  S. Burroughs as a subject in your work?

In January, 1972, Rolling Stone sent me and writer Bob Palmer to London to do a feature article on William Burroughs. Talk about a dream assignment. We spent a week with Burroughs, smoked hash, stared into the Dream Machine, played with the E-meter, and dug all Burroughs’ best rants and stories. Rolling Stone liked the story so much they asked me to be their New York photographer.

I shot Burroughs again in NYC, 1975, for Crawdaddy. He and musician Jimmy Page met for tea and chat before a Led Zeppelin concert. I got great shots from that shoot too.

TW: Are you equally compelled to photograph men and women.  If not,  which gender do you prefer to photograph and why?

CG: For most of my career, I’ve photographed everyone. Today, I mostly photograph gorgeous women. Wouldn’t you?

TW: How has photography broadened or defined your view of today’s world?

Like totally!

TW: If you could turn back the hands of time, would you have chosen another profession?

No, no, no. I do enjoy creative writing, but at heart I’m a picture guy.

TW: Describe the feeling of taking a great picture?  What happens at that moment?

CG: Well, for me the creative act is a wonderful high, especially if the subject is exotic or sexy. I go into what I call “magic space.” Psychologists call it “flow.” Athletes call it “being in the zone.” It’s an exhilarating feeling. Time stands still, there is total communion with the subject, and the creative process (right framing, angle, moment) is like a beautiful zen dance. I work it, work it, work it—and suddenly there it is, my shot!

TW: How do you define Photography as Art?

CG: Andy Warhol said, “Art is anything you can get away with.” I agree!

Also posted in Art, Blog, Books, Documentary, Fetish, Film, interview, lifestyle, Men, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Travel, women

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/

 

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Books, Cameras, Diary, Documentary, Early Work, Erotica, Film, lifestyle, Men, Models, Nudes, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Travel, women

Bob Shell: Taking Offense

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2020

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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Taking Offense

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I’m somewhat jaded about most current events. I just turned 73, and won’t live long enough to see the longterm outcome of such things as global warming, which may cause the collapse of our social order from the outside, and things like the #MeToo movement that may cause that collapse of that order from the inside. We are in a state of flux right now, redefining the relationships between men and women, in a radicalized culture that confuses both men and women.

Men and women, two sexes, right? I’d like to open your minds to the concept that there are more than just two sexes of humans. In her groundbreaking book, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men, Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling proposed that there are at least five sexes, men, women, herms, merms, and ferms, and perhaps many more. (I don’t like those names, but I like her ideas.) The famous Greek statue of Hermaphrodite in the Louvre, displayed with its rear to museum visitors, is just one example of a being with both male and female genitals, a classic hermaphrodite like the one photographed by Nadar in Paris in the 19th century. Saying that there are only two sexes is like saying there are only two political parties and ignoring everyone else. And that’s not such a bad comparison. since sexuality has become politicized.

I’ve alienated some people by comparing the #MeToo movement to McCarthyism. The parallels are strong. Senator Joe McCarthy ruined the lives of many people by accusing them of being communists. He and his cronies made the accusations with little or no proof, but in the terror of communism that pervaded American society in the 1950s and 60s, an accusation was enough. People, men and women, lost their jobs, their careers, their homes, their families, over accusations of being “pinkos” or “red.’. It didn’t matter if they’d lived exemplary lives and accomplished much, the accusation of being a communist, or commie sympathizer was enough. The program didn’t end until McCarthy was confronted in public. “Senator McCarthy, have you no shame?” was the final question that disgraced McCarthy and showed him and his followers up for the monsters they were.

Today a person, almost always a man, can lose everything over an accusation of sexual impropriety, no proof required. Now, I’m not defending those who actually mistreated women (or men). I know there are real sexual predators out there, just as there were real communists in McCarthy’s day, some even plotting the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, but they were in the minority, just as I suspect real sexual predators are today.

But, I think we have to draw some lines.

Back in the 1990s I was in NYC with the Shutterbug magazine crew. One night several of us were sitting in the hotel lounge after hours just sipping drinks and chatting, tired from a day at the convention. A young woman who worked for us came over to the sofa where I was sitting, climbed on behind me, and began to massage my shoulders, neck, and back. Was I the victim of an inappropriate sexual advance? I didn’t think so, and enjoyed her attentions. But, what if I hadn’t? Would I have reported her for sexual harassment? Or, if our positions were reversed and I’d started massaging her, would she have taken it as an unwanted sexual advance? This was long before #MeToo, and I just don’t think people were as touchy as they are today.

I wonder if, when I’m eventually released from prison, will I even fit into this radicalized society we’ve created.

I was a victim of #MeToo long before it existed. In 2003 I was accused of sex crimes based on absolutely no evidence. The Commonwealth of Virginia has admitted now, after I’ve spent more than twelve years in prison, that those charges were baseless. They were totally false accusations, yet I lost my job, had my business and life destroyed, and only now is the truth coming out. And I’m still in prison, because I have to fight through the courts to gain my freedom. Once the system gets hold of you, it doesn’t turn loose easily. A conviction becomes a thing unto itself, and the state does not like to admit it screwed up and convicted an innocent person. But, in the last few years, more than 1,500 people have been set free when their convictions were shown to be false, most after serving years in prison. The average time to overturn a false conviction in Virginia is twelve years! That is a travesty. Overturning false convictions ought to be easy, but the prosecutors will fight tooth and nail to keep a person in prison, even when they know a conviction was false.

The job of a prosecutor is to convict the guilty, but not to convict the innocent. So few of them conduct themselves that way. Prosecutors like Mike Nifong, who prosecuted the Duke University soccer team on ridiculous ‘evidence’ seem to be the norm.

One problem is that prosecutors are generally immune from lawsuits, so they are very rarely held accountable for their false prosecutions. They have no incentive to perform properly. I see signs of that changing, and it can’t change fast enough to suit me. Prosecutors who prosecute false cases should be stripped of their immunity and held accountable for their misdeeds.

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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://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-whats-in-a-name/

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, Documentary, Erotica, Fetish, Film, lifestyle, Men, Politics, Popular Culture, women