Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #31
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019
Photographs by Tony Ward, Copyright 2019
Why are “straight” people so freaked out over bondage? That’s a real puzzle to me. Here in the enlightened Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), all bondage photos/videos are classified as “violent.”. That would come as a surprise to the thousands of couples who employ bondage as part of their sex play, and buy their bondage gear and sex toys at the local shopping mall or on line. In England the big Sainsbury’s supermarket chain just announced that they will begin selling a selection of sex toys.
Sure, restraining an unwilling person is a violent act, but when both people, Dom and Sub (or Top and Bottom in today’s terminology), are voluntary participants, where’s the violence? Only in the eye of the beholder. And who else’s business is it, anyway?
I can attest to the fact that there was no violence in the 100+ bondage photos I shot for my bondage book. The only violence was violent fits of laughter that the models and I sometimes fell victim to. We laughed until we cried.
Not long ago I had an issue of Vogue confiscated as contraband. You heard right, Vogue, the 126 year old fashion and culture magazine. Why? Bondage. One of the advertisements showed a full page photo of two young women playfully wrapping stockings around one another. That’s bondage? Yep, in the eyes of the VDOC it is. Even though the mailroom censors approved the magazine and gave it to me, I still got a “possession of contraband” charge for having it!
At the same time in the buildup to Halloween this year several cable channels that we get showed movies in which involuntary bondage, usually of nubile females, played a part. I don’t even have a TV, but just passing by the big pod TV put these images before me. Talk about violence! The old “damsel in distress,” (Little Nell tied to a railroad track by Snidely Whiplash, waiting for Dudley Doright to come to the rescue), still attracts viewers, and if she’s mostly naked, so much the better. I’ve got news for the VDOC, I’ve never tied Little Nell, or anyone else, to a railroad track! And seeing two women playfully wrapping stockings around each other only brings a chuckle from me. It never even occurred to me that anyone could look at that playful image and see violent bondage
If people want to tie each other up, and there’s no force or coercion, whose business is it besides theirs? Even if for sex? So fucking what?!!
For some time the Fifty Shades of Grey books were on the VDOC’s disapproved publications list, but after a while and many complaints, the Publication Review Committee (PRC) changed that and now our libraries can have them. Out of curiosity I read all three books. They’re awful! How they became best sellers is beyond me. But, awful as they are, they should never have been disapproved for anything other than bad writing and saccharine plotting!
Even having something like a publication review committee strikes me as very un-American. You know, the old First Amendment and all that. The current disapproved publications list is many pages long in small print! And they pay people to be on the PRC!
My first bondage photography was with a beautiful young woman who modeled as Elkie Cooper. She’d been referred to me by a photographer friend in DC, and had just turned 18. She says I was her first real photographer. I photographed her for years. I loved her sense of humor; Her website said, “Elkie Cooper, The Other White Meat,” parodying the pork industry’s slogan. I hadn’t even thought about bondage until she sent me some bondage photos of her that another photographer had made. So we tried a bondage session, and got some good images. The only photos in my bondage book made on film are the photos of her. She also appears in the Rotovision book Erotic Photography, to which I contributed several images. A little later that year I booked Maria Shadoes for a shoot, not realizing she was heavily into bondage. She brought her friend Heather along, and I made a bunch of light bondage photos of the two of them. I wanted some of them in my bondage book, but the publisher didn’t like them and they were cut. Maybe someday I’ll do Volume Two and include them.
Then along came Marion and changed everything. I’d never before had a romantic relationship with a model. Of course there is always a measure of sexual tension between photographer and model, and that, in my experience, energizes the session and the resulting images. Some of the best nude photographs ever made are those of Charis Wilson that Edward Weston made, and, of course, they were lovers off camera. Weston’s best are full of erotic tension, even when they’re just bell peppers! I like to think that a similar tension inhabits my best photographs of Marion, bondage or not. To me, and I believe her previous boyfriends, Marion was sexual energy personified. She was like a runaway generator, shooting sparks to anyone nearby, male or female. She couldn’t have turned this off, even if she tried. Only one model I’ve worked with even came close, Tina Marie. Put her together with Marion, as we did, and the energy took over the photo shoot and comes through in those images.
I feel like I was at the peak of my creativity and craft in those bondage and fetish photographs I was making from 2002 until 2007. Then the state shut me down. Maybe one day I will be able to pick up where I left off. I’ve still got a lot of ideas for new images. Just set me free and I’ll go to it!
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-the-evolution-of-photography/