Category Archives: Architecture

Bob Shell: Stone Walls Do Not a Prison Make

 

 

 Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #27

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Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018

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Photography by Julie Chu, Aja Butane, Katherine Jania & Zoe, Copyright 2018

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Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage.

We’ve all heard that old saying, but where does it come from? It’s the beginning of the last stanza of the poem “To Althea, from Prison” written in 1642 by Richard Lovelace, while imprisoned in Gatehouse Prison. His crime? He had petitioned to have the 1640 Clergy Act annulled. Today, no one knows for certain who Althea was, or if she was even real, but she lives on in that romantic poem. BTW, the full stanza goes:

Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage;

If I have freedom in my love

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.

If you want to read the whole poem, it’s on Wikipedia. Someone set the lyrics to music, and Dave Swarbrick does an excellent version on Fairport Convention’s album Nine. I was fortunate enough to be photographing Dave on stage during my music photographer days and lost all interest in photography when he launched into the fiddle intro to Althea (I say fiddle, but I believe Dave was playing a viola that night). I learned years later that Dave was struggling with hearing loss, probably from all those years on stage in front of giant amplifiers. I’m partially deaf today in my right ear, the one that was usually toward the amps when I was on stage right. Fairport was opening for Traffic on that early 70s tour, and, for my money put on a better show.

But back to poor Richard pining for Althea through his bars. Let me tell you something, Richard. Stone walls (or concrete today) do a pretty damned effective prison make!

Modern prisons are modular structures made of interlocking precast concrete slabs. The slabs are lifted into place with cranes during construction. You may find signs that the slabs were lying flat at one time in the form of muddy boot prints going across walls that no one bothered to clean off. These “build a prison kits” go together quickly, almost like building with Lego blocks. Once finished they generally are T-shaped buildings, with each arm of the T being a “pod” with cells on three sides, plus showers, and a flat concrete floor with stainless steel tables with attached seats anchored to the floor. Cells generally are about 8 x 12 feet on the inside with the door on one of the 8 foot walls and a small window on the other. Except that the designers of the prison I’m in right now decided to omit the windows. Inside each cell are two bunks attached to the walls, a very small table attached to a wall with one or two seats, also attached to the wall, and a one-piece stainless steel sink/toilet, also attached to a wall. Nothing movable! I’ve been in four different Virginia prisons in the last ten years, and they’re pretty much the same with minor variations. Storage space for personal belongings in cells is very limited, usually an under-bed locker, either welded to the bottom bunk or sliding on the floor so it can be pushed under the bottom bunk. Speaking of bunks, they’re steel slabs. We are given “mattresses” for comfort, two-inch thick foam pads that are more like yoga mats than real mattresses. I used to have a “medical mattress” prescribed by a DOC doctor, but the DOC eliminated them several years ago. It was about six inches thick and very comfortable. I guess they don’t want us to be comfortable. I’m certainly not. I’m writing this at four in the morning, unable to sleep, an all too common problem here. For towels or whatever there are two “hooks” on one wall. These are straight metal rods about three inches long with a ball on the end that fits into a socket attached to the wall. The ball is a friction fit into the socket, so if you put too much weight on it, it collapses. Why? “We don’t want no hangings.”

I really don’t understand what anyone thinks they’re accomplishing by warehousing people this way. They no longer call these places prisons. Now they’re “Correctional Centers.”. I guess the word “prison” has become non-PC. But I can tell you from personal experience that damn little correction takes place. Oh, they have programs and classes, they will tell you. I’ve “been down” ten years as of last September and have yet to be offered a seat in one of those programs or classes. I’ve certainly not been rehabilitated! Nor did I need to be. I was doing just fine, making a good living from photography and writing, and at the peak of my career. And the state brought my whole life crashing down over events that never even happened except in the imagination of an incompetent quack of a medical examiner. I’ve posted details at www.bobshelltruth.com under News Updates.

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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 herehttp://tonyward.com/bob-shell-whats-wrong-with-the-american-justice-system/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, Cameras, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, History, Men, News, Politics, Popular Culture, Science, Still Life

Robert Asman: Sacred But Not Profound

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Photography and Text by Robert Asman, Copyright 2018

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SACRED BUT NOT PROFOUND

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While photographing on the streets, I am constantly aware of what a powerful sacred purpose of historical consequence our city Philadelphia hosts.  In the past, I was trying to capture people, places, and things that grasped my curiosity and maybe contained an iota of profundity or gravitas. I also felt at times that the street was more of a studio than my real indoor studio, but definitely a special place with so much contemporary history ubiquitously piled on the old.  My concern with this work was to see what a scene would look and feel like photographed on black and white film and made into a silver print which would often have a humorous, sad, or poignant depth, structure, and surface.  Similarly, the finishing drama of the nude is played out in the darkroom in conjunction with solitude and the transcendent chemistry, physics, light, and silver. Just a simple act of birthing, not unlike the street photograph or landscape discovery making this work and process visual and experiential poetry without the struggle for words and narrative algorithms.

I recall back in pre-2000 my assignment was going to be photographing the city for a decade on larger format film (2.25″x”3.25) to capture the visual feel of the city in the new millennia.  I wasn’t quite sure how I would print them or what they would look like so I let history play out, and then it presented itself like a meteorite explosion.  The 9/11 Tragedy which was reaking of incredulity, surrealism, pain, disbelief, and sadness changed my entire conception of  what the world could be.  That event also dramatically changed my perceptions of the future as well as history.  At the time Lil’ Bush was appointed President.  Of course Lil’ Bush was moved out of the way except for ceremonial functions and the neocons took over our military and banking systems and we have had War ever since in the Mid East of all places.  Another consequence of the Wars to the nation was further social segregation and polarization of the classes with the “haves” reaping huge proportions of the wealth in garish displays of tastelessness while the poor got poorer.  This dynamic has lasted until today…endless wars, economic crashes, and garish wealth transfers and Donald Trump, a pitiful TV actor, is being made  the symbol for it.  That being the reality, the prints I made were very heavy and brooding.  The images (silver toned prints) were embedded in a warm matte Agfa Portriga paper that were selenium toned and bleached before being soaked in tea to give it an ambiance of yellow haze and a heavy sorrow.  The entire body of work is much about our present and history using the City of  Philadelphia as a metaphorical dramatic stage set for the plight of our nation’s  future.

“There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged war.”

Sun Tzu

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About The Author: For most of the last thirty-five years, Robert Asman has been devoted to investigating and stretching the conceptual and technical boundaries of silver prints.  As an alchemist of the dark room, Asman’s creations come to form in the darkroom through the boundless manipulation of paper negatives and chemicals.  His explorations and technique bind human form, urbanism and nature.  Asman approaches art making as a transformative process, in which he mines the physical properties of his materials to create a work on paper in which process and image are one.

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To see additional photography by Robert Asman, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/gallery/robert-asman-the-alchemist/

 

Also posted in Art, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Environment, Film, Friends of TWS, Men, News, Photography, Popular Culture

Thomas Kramer: From Riches to Rags

Thomas Kramer at Home on Fisher Island, Miami Florida

Thomas Kramer. Photo by Tony Ward, Copyright 2018

 

 

Photography and Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2018

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FROM RICHES TO RAGS

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A little over a decade ago in the Spring of 2007,  I received a phone call from a journalist from Hamburg, Germany to discuss a photo assignment. He wanted me to illustrate a photo story he was working on for the German Press about Thomas Kramer, a property developer that ignited the real estate boom in Miami Beach during the 1990’s. I was immediately intrigued by the story and agreed to take the assignment.  I met the journalist in Miami Beach, at a cozy boutique hotel  located on Ocean Boulevard.  At a meeting on the eve of the shoot the journalist provided more background about the reason for the story.  I was told that Mr. Kramer had just been sued by one of the wealthiest families in Germany for fraud. The lavish lifestyle that I was about to witness may be short lived.

We arrived at the mansion on the magnificent Fisher Island at around 10:00am the next day to be greeted by a gregarious man who appeared to be happy to have our company as I photographed him around his lavish estate. Mr. Kramer mentioned the suit quite openly during our time together but evoked a certain confidence throughout the day that he would prevail.  During our lunch break, he had several servants serve us a wonderful lunch with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables lean meat and fresh juices.  There were a few ladies around as well since he was known for being an unapologetic playboy.   After the first day of shooting he  invited  me to a Shaquille O’Neill party (his neighbor) who also resided on the tiny exclusive island.

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Thomas Kramer on his way to a Shaquille O'Neil party

Thomas Kramer on his way to Shaquille O’Neil’s party.

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One of the most memorable moments of the photo shoot with Thomas Kramer was when he invited me and my assistant to visit his master suite.  I vividly recall seeing in his bathroom, a massive amount of fragrances of all the various designer brands that lined his vanity of excess.  During the tour, in the same setting, was a security door where he placed his palm on what appeared to be a keypad. He said it was his safe room. The room was not that big like other rooms in the mansion, but it was lined floor to ceiling with a seemingly endless supply of various types of  guns and other weaponry. Clearly the man was paranoid and for good reason.

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THOMAS_KRAMER_tony-Ward_Studio-miam-beach-developer-bankruptcy

Thomas Kramer and his Gold cross.

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It would take another 10 years, but on September 28, 2017; Thomas Kramer lost his battle in court and received a $192.4 million judgment against him.  His greatest paranoia may have been realized.  The plaintiffs in the case used that judgment against him to credit bid foreclosure and ultimately take title to his luxurious lifestyle and property. He seemed to have had fun while it lasted.

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To access more Diary entries by Tony Ward, click herehttp://tonyward.com/2018/04/diary-a-fashion-shoot-at-the-jersey-shore/

 

Also posted in Accessories, Blog, Cameras, Documentary, Environment, Fashion, Glamour, History, Men, News, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture, Travel, Women

Grant Wei: Napalm Skies

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Photography and Artist Statement by Grant Wei, Copyright 2018

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Napalm Skies

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I have always found the concept of being from Philadelphia to be interesting.

Because, in actuality, I grew up in the suburbs. I don’t know Philadelphia as well as I probably should, given the fact that I spent virtually my entire existence within the confines of the Schuylkill River. And since I have left the suburbs for college in the city, what I have glorified to be a real Philadelphian experience, I still wonder my experiences genuinely constitute a person living in Philadelphia.

Because, since coming to Penn, I have only come to understand how out of touch I am with the living conditions of those who inhabit the same city as me. It’s not that I am exposed to more individuals whose income brackets don’t fall into the top one percent of income — Penn has gentrified the surrounding area with disturbing efficiency — it’s just that my education has made me more discontent with not understanding the world around me.

All the same, I question whether there even exists a conception of Philadelphia. After all, we all have our own individual experiences regarding living in Philadelphia. My experience transitioning from the suburbs to the city is different than that someone who has lived in Fishtown all their lives, which is different someone who has lived around Rittenhouse Square all their lives, and so on. And that doesn’t mean that any of our experiences are less authentic.

I think, out of all the valuable lessons I have learned in college, that the most important aspect of developing an understanding of the world is to develop a sense of empathy for others. I may never understand the realities of living in one of the poorer areas of Philadelphia, but I can try without letting my presumptions get ahead of me. Because, in the end, I never thought of knowledge as journey with an end; because, the moment I stop questioning myself is the moment I stop learning.

But, despite the differences in experience (and my futile attempts of writing without othering people), there are many aspects of life that we all share. Particularly, when we all finish work or school or whatever, we would look into the same napalm sky to see the same orange hue permeating every corning of our sight. It’s a sign that one day is done, and despite whatever hardships we might encounter, that we could redeem ourselves in the next day, and the next, and the next.

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Portrait of Grant Wei by Eileen Ko, Copyright 2018

Portrait of Grant Wei by Eileen Ko, Copyright 2018

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About The Author: Grant Wei is a Sophomore enrolled in the College of the University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2020. To access additional articles by Grant Wei, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/grant-wei-blinking-through-memories/

 

Also posted in Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Photography, Popular Culture, Student Life, Travel

Wenjia Guo: View on the Roof

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Photography and Artist Statement by Wenjia Guo, Copyright 2018

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View on the Roof

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As an architecture student, I always treat design as a process of choice. Choose to show the real structure or hide with decorative materials. Choose to display the mechanical equipment or dress up with modernist elements. It is the same with the photographic medium, photographers choose the light, the subject, the environment as well as the attitude. So, this time, I used my pictures to discuss something that architects tried to hide from the public, the roof view. Nowadays, architects value roofs as the fifth façade. They came up with the concept of a green roof tried to turn the roof into a positive element in life and the environment.  However, during  development over time, architects used the parapet wall to prevent people from easily seeing the roof from the ground. I found several roofs to photograph and recorded these views. From an aerial view to observe these buildings, I found them familiar and strange. The equipment on the roof is still in the quiet of day there to complete their functions, do not look forward to my visit, but once I pay more attention, the snow in spring, the narrow skylight, the huge heating all tells their own story. Architecture design for me is a way of expressing my thoughts to the world and  to photograph structures like this provides me with an opportunity to read to the world.

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Portrait of Wenjia Guo by Mu Qiao, Copyright 2018

Portrait of Wenjia Guo by Mu Qiao, Copyright 2018

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About The Author: Wenjia Guo is a Graduate student in the School of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania. To access additional articles by Wenjia Guo, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/wenjia-guo-travel-friends/

 

Also posted in Blog, Cameras, Contemporary Architecture, Current Events, Documentary, Engineering, Environment, Photography, Popular Culture, Science, Student Life, Travel, UPenn, UPenn: Photography Students, Women