Bob Shell: Why Radford?

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Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #35

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Letters  by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Photography by Anthony Colagreco, Copyright 2019

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I have often been asked why I had my office/studio in Radford, VA, not exactly the center of culture..

In the mid 70s, after the near collapse of the US economy (caused by the infamous Arab oil embargo and other economic factors) wrecked my first camera shop, I worked for a year for Woolco Department Stores managing the camera department in one of their Roanoke stores. I didn’t like that job, because department managers didn’t really manage anything, and quit to take a job with Ritz camera in Blacksburg. When that didn’t work out (my selling style was to spend the time with the customer to find out what that person needed to buy to accomplish what they wanted to do, and sell them that. The regional manager said I was spending too much time with the customers!), I found myself working in the photo lab at Virginia Tech, where I’d gone to school. We developed and printed film shot by the two staff photographers, and when both of them were busy, I’d occasionally be asked to go out and shoot a “grip and grin” photo of the university President shaking hands with some visiting dignitary. But I wanted to be the photographer, not a lab rat in the basement, so after a year or so at this I left and took a job with Gentry Studio in Blacksburg. They were a combo of photo studio and camera shop, the perfect job for me.

I worked there for several years, honing my own photography skills in their studio after hours. I liked working there very much, but always had the itch to do my own thing. After all, even the best boss is still your boss, and I never liked working for other people. Gentry Studios had three locations, Salem, Blacksburg, and Radford, all long established. The owner decided to close the Radford studio, so I took the leap and took it over. I changed the sign to Shell Studio and expanded the camera shop portion. This, as I recall, was in 1980, and the rent on the large studio location was $ 300 a month! Amazing, eh? But at times I had trouble coming up with that money. I inherited the job of photographing the sororities at Radford University and some other school business, plus selling all the materials required for the photography courses. This, plus portraits and some commercial work kept me going for a while, but money was tight. To pick up some extra income I began writing for a relatively new photography publication initially called Shutterbug Ads, a buy-sell-swap newspaper for photographers. Initially there was not much editorial content, and that was often poor in quality, but the owner wanted to improve the quality and become more of a mainstream magazine. When I first wrote for them they were printed tabloid size on yellow paper, and writers were paid in copies.

Parallel to this I had started a photographic equipment import and distribution operation. I had almost accidentally stumbled upon Enna Werk, a small German optical company in Munich that had just lost its US distributor. So I began importing and wholesaling their products, primarily camera lenses, slide viewers, slide projectors, and the Ennascop opaque projectors. After a year I broadened my product lines to include Fisher tripods and video lights from Italy, COIL aspheric magnifiers from England, and Lamborghini camera bags and sunglasses. These additional product lines resulted from meeting people at photokina in 1980, which I also covered for Shutterbug. For ten years I ran this business in parallel to acting as Shutterbug’s Technical Editor. By 1990 it had become just too much to do all of this, so I sold the import/distribution business. Shutterbug had by then transitioned to being a real magazine with ever-growing subscription list, distribution to booksellers, grocery stores, Wal-Mart, etc., and they offered me the job as Editor at a payment rate I could live on. As I have said before, though, I was never an employee of Shutterbug. I contracted to supply editorial services at a fixed monthly rate. This allowed me the freedom to set my own office hours, stay away from office politics, and take on noncompeting projects, like writing books. By the late 80s I was writing several books a year as well as writing for Photo Industry Reporter and some other noncompeting publications. Since I could do my work from anywhere, I stayed on in the Radford studio location, at 202 Third Avenue, right in downtown Radford. I probably would have stayed there indefinitely, but the roof leaked and the landlord refused to fix it. After two studio floods my insurance company said they would not pay for any more water damage, so I was forced to move. Luckily a great location became available, a former pharmacy measuring about 35 X 80 feet at 239 West Main Street, just a short distance from the police department. I kept my studio there from 1992 until 2007, fifteen years. So I had studios in Radford, on major commercial streets, for 20+ years, but when the police came to my studio after Marion’s death the detectives said they didn’t know I was in town! Some detecting!!

I wanted a big studio space, and the new location was ideal, since I had begun conducting studio workshops for groups of photographers. The monthly rent there started at $ 500 a month, and by 2007 had only gone up to $ 525! And that included a reserved parking space right by the back door. The rent also included heat in the winter. Amazing, and one of the main reasons I stayed in Radford all those years.

Anyway, that’s the story of why I was in Radford, somewhat abridged. I’d probably still be there, doing my photography, writing for books, magazines and websites, and generally enjoying life if the police hadn’t foolishly blamed me for Marion’s death. Their simple-minded nonsense destroyed me at the peak of my career. The plain fact, never disputed by anyone, is that I was not even there when Marion overdosed. When I found her unconscious, I immediately called 911 and did everything in my power to help her.

The real reason the Radford police, prosecutors, and court felt they had to destroy me was that some of my photography was frankly erotic (many Americans are terrified of open sexuality), and at the time of Marion’s death we were working on a book of erotica for a German publisher. The book was ultimately published as Erotic Bondage: Art of Rope by Goliath, first in their MixOfPix series. There is nothing pornographic about this book; no penetration, the photos are no more revealing than Playboy and far less revealing than Penthouse. We even Photoshopped some photos because we wanted to sell the book in most countries of the world, and put the text in English, German, French, and Spanish, for that reason as well. The book was published under my pseudonym Edward Lee, a pseudonym I’d used often since at least1993 (I don’t really remember when I first used it; it’s actually my two middle names. Over the course of my career I’ve used a number of pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. Many writers have done so. My friend Don Sutherland used something like 16 or 17 different pseudonyms.)

At my trial the prosecutor waved a copy of the book around at every opportunity, shoving it at my witnesses’ faces – “Have you seen THIS?”. He always seemed surprised when they answered, “Yes, Bob gave me a copy.” He was offended that they weren’t offended! None of my friends and former models found the book objectionable.

I just managed to keep my business going doing the 4+ years I was out on bail awaiting trial. I wrote four books, numerous magazine articles, held workshops, had a gallery show of my photographs in Chicago (but couldn’t go to it!), did my own photography, and generally tried to live a normal life during that time. But the prosecution was determined to convict me, and used false evidence and practically every other dirty trick in the book to. convince the jury that I was a scumbag who regularly drugged and raped my models, even though they couldn’t locate a single former model with anything negative to say about me. Not a one! And they looked for more than four years. As a lawyer I know said, if that had been true, surely someone would have come forward.

I’m almost tired of repeating that I am a totally innocent man destroyed by a corrupt political system because I dared to be different. They sentenced me to 32 1/2 years, when the Virginia sentencing guidelines recommended a maximum sentence of three years! The Virginia Dept. of Corrections classifies me as a “numerical lifer,” which means that even though I don’t have a life sentence I’m unlikely to live long enough to get out. That’s really depressing!

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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. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonyward.com/bob-shell-wherefore-blog/

 

Posted in Affiliates, Architecture, Blog, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel

Jamie Hunter: Escuela Adelante – Nicaragua

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Text by Jamie Hunter, Copyright 2019

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ESCUELA ADELANTE

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Who are we?

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Escuela Adelante provides high quality, alternative education in Spanish and English to meet the diverse needs of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. We offer bilingual preschool, several levels of STEM-based ESL and bilingual coursework for elementary-aged students, and adult ESL classes. All of our programming is founded in our core concepts of Accessibility, Diversity, and Academic Excellence. We have been serving the community since 2014 and plan to expand to full-time bilingual primary and secondary school, including technical training, college preparation, and extracurricular academic courses. Escuela Adelante is a non-profit organization, registered as a 501c(3) in the United States.

Our Mission:

Our mission is to inspire learning and bring communities together by providing outstanding bilingual education that embraces and depends on socioeconomic, linguistic and cultural diversity. 

Our Vision:

We strive to cultivate generations of bilingual critical thinkers who are highly knowledgeable, technologically adept, individually inspired, kind and respectful towards others and towards the physical environment. We envision a thriving, dynamic campus where students can grow and explore. We embrace diversity, self-empowerment and cultural exchange as a means of maximizing education and nurturing healthy relationships between all people of San Juan del Sur and beyond.

Our Promise:

We promise a safe environment where each child can gain the skills for his or her unique path, whether that path leads to university, entrepreneurship, or other success. All students are treated with equal respect and love, regardless of race, gender, religion, socio-economic status, or other individual differences. We respect and embrace everyone’s native language and culture.

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Jamie Hunter teacher educator escuela adelante

Jamie Hunter

About The Instructor

Jaime Hunter, Co-Founder & Director of Operations 

Jaime is a language instructor with 13 years of teaching experience, ranging from Montessori preschool to the university level. She received her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and Educational Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, and holds Bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish from Temple University. Jaime previously served as the Director of Operations at the Barrio Planta Project in San Juan del Sur, and instructed at the Polytechnic University in Rivas, Nicaragua, as well as with the Biblioteca Movil and the Casa de la Mujer in San Juan del Sur. 

 

Posted in Announcements, Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, News, Popular Culture, Science, Student Life, Travel, Women

Mikala Mikrut: Sense of Place

 

Poetry by Mikala Mikrut, Copyright 2019

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Sense of Place

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Las Vegas is my home,

I feel it when I roam.

It must be the drama in the air,

I swear it follows me everywhere.

Seeing that billboard of a provocative lady,

Every day since I was a baby.

Every birthday mom made me ice skate,

An activity of which I still very much hate.

Mom drank fruit water every day,

But complained of the seeds in her way.

For her birthday, I found the solution,

A bottle of glass to also reduce pollution.

She looked at me with disgust, husband laughing,

And said, “no. this can’t be happening.”

“I know you didn’t just get me a fucking bottle,”

Eleven year old me broke down, lost grip of the throttle.

Met the man I thought I’d marry,

Now I’m pretty sure he’s gay, actually very.

My second boyfriend lasted 5 days,

I didn’t like waking from his bed in a haze.

Watching that man get hit by a car,

His body flew so far.

Being forced out of my mother’s twice,

Yeah, that didn’t feel very nice.

My dad dealt weed,

And now the same men in prison are waiting to be freed.

When I visited home from college and thought I had a place to stay,

I discovered my room had been given away.

To a child, not of love, not of blood,

But a mere “friend” from a different neighborhood.

I lost my friend Ben, put a gun to his head,

Oh the things I would have told him had I known he’d be dead.

Then there was the time I got drunk with uncle Doug,

He tripped as he walked over the rug.

To get to me where I was laying,

I could see in his eyes,

He wasn’t playing.

Lucky me, I got away,

Little did I know, my sister in the next room had to pray.

That’s not the worst of it, though,

I swear my life is a dramatic Tv show.

Step sister, Ava, removed from my life,

So much uncertainty, how couldn’t it cause strife?

But, oh, my poor sweet mom,

Who had a perfect life until my bomb.

Her angel of a husband “seduced” by 12 year old me,

She hinted to kill myself so she could be free.

“I want to go home” she would say with a tear,

“Death is no longer something I fear.”

She claimed the best excuse would be if I was gone,

Making herself sound like some twisted her heroine.

All of these things happened in one town,

And yet I can’t think of a single reason to frown.

Why be sad about any of these things?

When I can be excited for what the future brings. 

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Editor’s Note: Photographs Courtesy Mikrut family archives.  Copyright 2019

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About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a sophomore enrolled at Southern Utah University. To access additional articles by Mikala Mikrut, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/mikala-mikrut-the-best-way-to-speak-to-a-monster-is-from-a-distance/

Posted in Affiliates, Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Friends of TWS, Health Care, Models, Popular Culture, Student Life, Women

Rongrong Liu: Light

 

Video and Text by Rongrong Liu, Copyright 2019

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LIGHT

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This video art project is all about light. I started thinking of using light as my main subject when I saw the disco ball installation recently at the Institute of Contemporary Art. What’s most interesting about it is that what I am able to see with my eyes is different from what the camera lens can see, which is iridescent.

There isn’t a strict plan for this piece. Starting from the first clip, each clip is what I associated in my mind with the previous one. The blurry night traffic scene ⇒ the micro bokeh light ⇒ disco ball ⇒ glass light ⇒ underwater light ⇒ projector light ⇒ smoke. After this clip are my interactions with the light, playing with the shadow and the time lapse of traffic. Light is everywhere, and it is different depending on the way we look at it (from a macroscopic or a microscopic view), how close we are, how focused we are, etc..

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Portrait of Rongrong Liu by Alexis Masino. Copyright 2019

Portrait of Rongrong Liu by Alexis Masino. Copyright 2019

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About The Author: Rongrong Liu is a Senior enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2019. To access additional articles by Rongrong Liu, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/rongrong-liu-me/

 

Posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Fashion, Friends of TWS, Light Table, News, Photography, Popular Culture, Science, Student Life, UPenn, Women

Bob Shell: Fighting Monsters

Artwork by Christopher Suciu. Copyright 2019

 

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #33

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Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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FIGHTING MONSTERS

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Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.”.

I’ve been fighting a monster known as The Commonwealth of Virginia since my life was disrupted in 2003 by false criminal charges after the death of my girlfriend Marion Franklin. Have I succeeded in not becoming a monster myself? I hope so.

When you’re charged with a crime by a state, that state devotes all of its vast resources to insuring that you are convicted. Unless you are wealthy, it’s a very uneven match, and you must be prepared to lose everything, even if you win the case. Lawyers, court reporters, expert witnesses, bail bondsmen, etc., don’t work for free. Everywhere you turn, someone is standing there with their hand extended for money. I’ve never been wealthy, just comfortable, and the whole legal process bankrupted me.

Last night I had a dream. I was sitting in an auditorium somewhere with friends. We were on the front row. The Commonwealth’s Attorney (CA) came down the aisle, turned to me and asked, “Mr. Shell, did you wear sunglasses on your drive over here today?”. I said that I had. “You see,” he barked, “he admits to an illegal activity.”. I must have looked totally confused because he said, “Don’t you know that it’s illegal to wear sunglasses after you’re accused of a crime? ”

Just a dream, right? But not so far from reality. After my arrest I spent thirty days in jail before my lawyer could bail me out. When you’re out on bail it’s just like probation; you have to report to the Probation and Parole office regularly, and any infraction, no matter how minor, can get your release cancelled and you thrown back in jail. One day I was going somewhere in town, don’t recall where, when a town cop pulled me over and wrote me a ticket for having a burned out brake light. I had no idea the light wasn’t working. For a while it looked like the CA was going to try to revoke my bail over this! I had the light fixed immediately and carried the receipt to traffic court. Luckily, the judge dismissed the charge. But by driving with a burned out brake light, I was technically committing an illegal act while out on bail! And if they want to, they can revoke your bail over almost anything, even a parking ticket!

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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. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-prostitution/

 

Posted in Art, Blog, Current Events, Environment, Friends of TWS, Men, News, Politics, Popular Culture, Women