Category Archives: Men

Bob Shell: Strange Signs


Beware of Dog. Photo: Tony Ward, 1979



Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #20


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018




In my travels I always kept an eye open for interesting things to photograph. Sometimes it was people, sometimes animals, sometimes street scenes, and so on. One thing I saw almost everywhere was signs, sometimes official, more often hand printed. Among the official signs, one of my favorites is a bronze plaque set into a sidewalk in Germany. It reads something like:

On this spot on February 16, 1539,

Absolutely nothing happened.

I’m sure I got the date wrong, but you get the idea. That was either in Munich or Wetzlar.

One time in Germany, Peter Moore took s picture of me next to an arrow sign pointing at me, saying EIN FAHRT. Of course that means “ONE WAY,” as any German speaker knows!

A sign I saw in South Tyrol, the German-speaking part of northern Italy, was in multiple languages, but totally incompressible in any. I think it warned of flash floods, but that didn’t come from the text, but from the little man panicking in rushing water in the pictograph at the top of the sign.

Seen in the American Midwest on the side of a big white building:


Makes you want to walk right in, eh?

On a large factory in Hong Kong:


And in a hotel in that same city, on a plaque on the inside of the room door a number of suggestions for hotel guests, including:


The intent comes through, but a native English speaker would have phrased it differently! You find lots of butchered English in the far east, one of the best sighted in a shop window:


Yeah, sure it is.

In a Chinese restaurant window in, I think, Kuala Lumpur (which itself means “Muddy Junction”) was this:


That one got me to go inside. I don’t know if the prices were really “fair dinkum,” but the food was really good.

Closer to home, driving up Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley through picturesque little towns I spotted this one on the roadside:


Gets the point across, I guess. Not far along the same road, this one:


Took a while to figure out that this person was selling blankets for $ 4.00 per yard! They were actually very nice home made blankets at a reasonable price.

And on the side of a barn in New Bern, Virginia:


I think they stole the idea for that one!

A friend recently sent me this one:




I like that one.

I have a large collection of photos of odd signs in my archive, some of which made money as stock images.

Which leads into another topic, stock photography. Unfortunately, the days when a photographer could earn a nice second income from stock photo sales are pretty much over. I used to get regular checks from the licensing of images I had with agencies. Then along came tbe Internet, and my stock payments lost two zeros on the amount payable line. People used to ask me what’s was the most I ever got paid for a single image. I’d smile and say 78,000. After the shock wore off, I’d clarify that it was Yen, not dollars. It was for the use of one of my images on the cover of the Japanese edition of a Danielle Steel romance novel. Actually, the Japanese editions of several of her books bear my photographs thanks to a real whirlwind of an agent I had in Tokyo. Tony knows who I’m talking about.


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


Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Documentary, Environment, Film, Friends of TWS, History, Photography, Popular Culture, Travel

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #15


The Collector



Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #15


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


I’m sitting here listening to some wonderful music. It’s the soundtrack album for The Collector, a late 1960s film by William Wyler, based on the novel by John Fowles. I consider Fowles to be the finest writer in English of the second half of the 20th Century. The Collector may have been his first novel; it’s certainly one of his earliest. By very happy synchronicity, Maurice Jarre was given the task of composing the score, and that seductively sensitive music stuck in my mind when I first saw the film and wouldn’t let go. Samantha Eggar was the actress, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the actor’s name. It’s just the two of them for almost the whole film, and they both did spectacular jobs. Simple plot, but beautifully realized.

I rushed out and bought the soundtrack on vinyl LP as soon as I could find it, and probably wore the grooves off a copy or two. Somehow, when my music collection changed from vinyl to CD I never could find this music on CD and after my turntable broke down I was without a lot of music. Some came out on CD, but much didn’t, or my sources just couldn’t get it.

Naturally I was delighted yesterday when my regular search turned up a hit and I. was able to buy the soundtrack of The Collector. I have a list that I search for regularly, and periodically I’ll get a hit and once more listen to music that’s only a memory in my mind.

Another album I played the grooves off in the 60s is Puzzle by The Mandrake Memorial, one of the best of the psychedelic genre. That one did come out on CD eventually, but is still absent from our music catalog. We get our music downloads from a company called JPay, which has an exclusive deal with the Virginia DOC. There are terminals on the wall of each pod, and when we’re allowed out in the pod we can log on and search for music to buy and download, and send and receive email. Most songs cost us $ 1.99 each, with albums running around $ 15.00 – 17.00. Unfortunately, JPay doesn’t have any Beatles, Bob Seger, John Mellencamp, and several others, but otherwise their selection is pretty good. They even have some pretty obscure groups like Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies that I used to listen to back in the day. I even recently found an odd old album I like, Hard Rock From The Middle East by The Devil’s Anvil, perhaps the only American rock band that sang in Arabic and Turkish!

Music makes the long, sad, boring hours of prison pass a bit faster and carries me away from this sordid existence that is my life now.

Maurice Jarre is one of my favorite modern composers. He’s been lucky enough to write the musical scores for some of the finest motion pictures. I have a collection of movie music, and have more by him than any other composer. There are few outlets today for composers working in the classical mode, so I’m glad movies still provide an outlet for this talent. Rich patrons who support art for art’s sake are all too rare these days. Of course, this applies to all arts, not just music. We can’t all be Jeff Koons!


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 at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here



Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Current Events, Environment, Friends of TWS, History, Popular Culture

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #14


Photo of Marion Franklin by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018



Letters From Prison: Part 14, 2018


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


I should explain my reactions on being arrested. I was raised to believe the police were my friends. My father, a TV news reporter, had many friends on the Roanoke force, and one of my cousins was a police chief. So I’d been around policemen all my life and was comfortable with them. So when the Radford police arrested me I talked to them honestly and figured they’d quickly realize they had it all wrong and drop the charges. Wrong!

When I first got to know Marion in early 2002, she was very open with me that she was a druggie. Said she’d been a “pill freak” since the age of 13. Called herself a “walking PDR” (PDR is the Physician’s Desk Reference, a big book that includes information on all prescription drugs, what they are used for, and pictures of all pills, capsules, etc.). Marion could identify almost all pills and capsules on sight. She was also a pot smoker, on pretty much a daily basis. I wasn’t concerned about the marijuana, because I knew it wouldn’t hurt her, but did have some concerns about the pills. Back in the late 60s I’d known Dr. Humphrey Osmond, a researcher at NIMH in Bethesda. He had a project in which he gave people money to buy street drugs and bring them to him. Then his lab would analyze them to see if they were really what they were sold as, and if not, what was really in them. Not surprisingly, many were not what the sellers claimed they were, and some contained pretty nasty stuff, like belladonna, formaldehyde, etc. According to studies I’ve read, the situation is even worse today. A fairly high percentage of “X” sold today is something other than MDMA, the real substance that’s called “Ecstasy.”. MDMA is a so-called “super amphetamine,” and even the real stuff can be dangerous because it spikes body temperature and blood pressure.

Anyway, the question was asked, “did you ever give Marion drugs?”. The honest answer was yes. Marion was taking Valium, and so was I. We both had prescriptions from our doctors, hers in North Carolina, mine in Virginia. Did I have any proof that she had a prescription? All I know is that she would periodically go home to North Carolina and come back with a big prescription bottle full and the label had her name on it. Anyway, she ran out one time and couldn’t go home to get a refill right away so I gave her some of mine to fill the gap. You might think “No big deal!”. But you’d be wrong. I got a one year sentence for that. Did I ever give Marion any other prescription or illegal drugs? Emphatically no! And I’ve offered to take a polygraph exam on that (or any other questions), but the prosecution turned down my offer. Polygraph results are not admissible in court in Virginia, anyway, but it would have been nice to demonstrate that I’ve told the truth from day one.

What about the marijuana? I never bought any for her, but I did pay her for modeling and studio assisting, and I’m sure she spent some of her money on marijuana and pills. Her supplier, a college student named Rob, came to my trial and testified that he’d supplied her with pot, pills, and cocaine. But he said he was not a drug dealer, just a guy who got drugs for her (!). In spite of this admission made under oath in court, he was never charged with anything!

When they searched my studio the police found in Marion’s purse her pipe and the plastic box she carried her stash in, and ignored them. The detective said that they weren’t interested. After my 1969 experience in Richmond, that really surprised me. What a turnaround in those years!

Shortly before her death, Marion had gone to Florida to spend a week with friends near Orlando, had gone to some sort of concert/party/rave and came back with some pills sold to her as X. She’d taken some at the party and said she thought it wasn’t really X. I told her to throw them away, and thought she had. I’ll talk more about those suspect pills another time.

(How many of you know that, at least in Virginia, if you pick up someone else’s prescription medications from a pharmacy, you are violating the law? I was in court for a hearing one time. The person ahead of me was a frightened young woman who had been caught with her grandfather’s pills during a traffic stop. She was facing six years in prison! I don’t know how her case turned out because the judge didn’t drop the charges at the hearing, and sent her off to jail. That’s insane!)

Since Richard Nixon pushed the “War on Drugs” all his successors have followed suit, persecuting drug users but little else. Sure, they make a big splash now and then arresting people like Pablo Escobar and “El Chapo,” but that barely dents the river flowing across our borders. The government should have learned with the Volstead Act and the “Hooch War” of the 1920s that prohibition does not work. As long as there is a demand, someone will fill it.

As far as Marion’s drug use, I figured that she would outgrow it, as I had. By the late 1970s I had completely given up on drugs and considered them time wasters. I was just too busy. I even gave up alcohol, except to nurse a single Campari and soda all evening when appearances demanded.

Marion and I went to several parties when she accompanied me to Las Vegas for a photo industry trade show in 2003. She loved it, all the glitz and glitter. At a party at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant, she was delighted to meet a very drunk Val Kilmer, who was a Nikon spokesman at the time. There’s a picture of us taken by Vladimir Samarin, Editor of Photomagazin in Moscow, at another party on that trip on the opening page of bobshelltruth. com……


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 at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here


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Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #13

Portrait of Karen Boyle by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018

Portrait of Karen Boyle by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


Letters From Prison: Part 13, 2018


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


As promised, the story of PIC magazine. PIC, was short for People In Camera, and was started in the early 80s by Chris Knight as a sort of hobby. Captain Christopher Knight, to give him his proper title was an almost stereotypical rich English eccentric. He lived in a castle in Kent (Cooling Castle), had a full-time staff of falconers to care for his hawks, eagles, owls, and falcons, all of which spent most of their time on wooden perches in the castle courtyard. Chris was the scion of a family that owned fleets of container ships, which he and his brother had inherited. He was also a pretty darned good photographer, specializing in photos of pretty women. There was an old barn on the castle grounds that he’d had wired up and turned into an exceptionally well outfitted studio. He brought professional models from London for his own shoots and worked with a group of photographers who conducted workshops there and on the castle grounds. The photo of Karen Boyle, that year’s Miss Jamaica, that graced the splash page of my old website (and may still be up) was taken in one of the castle’s ruined towers in the summer of 1993. Anyway, I’d somehow met Chris, I don’t remember where, and was the invited up to the castle for a photo shoot and chat. Chris wanted to talk to me because PIC had been in the red for years, and as he said, was eating up all his “pocket money.”. We talked, he hired me as a consultant, and had the magazine’s books sent over to me. The problem was obvious when I looked over the books. He was grossly overstaffed, and was paying people high salaries for doing very little. I advised him to make some serious staff cuts, which made me very unpopular with those who got the axe, but in a short while the magazine was showing a small profit. Chris didn’t care if it made a lot of money, he just didn’t want it to keep on losing money.

One day I was in my office at home (I always worked from home) and got a call from a solicitor (British for lawyer) in London. It seemed that Chris had had a heart attack, and after hanging on for a week in hospital had died. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when he told me that Chris had rewritten his will during that week and had left PIC to me for a very nominal sum if I wanted it. Wow, biggest surprise of my life! I decided to give it a go even though running a magazine by “remote control” from the USA presented some major challenges. For most of 1994 I was essentially commuting between Radford and London. PIC originally had it’s offices in the grimy old English city of Rochester. I didn’t want to go up there, so I moved everything down to Hove on the south coast, and borrowed a large office from Hove Foto Books, my English book publisher, for a few months until we found a London office near Kings Cross, London. I realized at some point that trying to run a magazine in the UK while holding together my American commitments was just about impossible. Plus, we had a serious cash flow problem. On paper we were looking good, but many advertisers simply weren’t paying their bills. Not just little guys either, but some major companies were holding onto our invoices for six months or more. Meanwhile we had printing, postage, salaries, etc., that had to be paid right then. Then, real disaster struck! Over the long Christmas holiday a water pipe on the top floor burst, flooding our office and ruining things. The bottom line was that I could not go on pouring thousands of pounds of my own money in every month. Unlike Chris my resources had rather tight limits. So I had to make the very painful decision at the end of 1994 to shut the magazine down.

It was great while it lasted and I was very proud of the “book” (as magazines are called inside the business). We won an international design award for one cover, by the amazing Japanese photographer Hiroshi Nonami. The president of Olympus in the UK wrote to me to say that my cover portrait of model Nicolle Gray was the finest portrait he had ever seen. I was gratified by such positive feedback. I still own rights to the PIC name and logo and hoped to one day relaunch it. If I ever do it will most likely be as a webzine.

Having to close that magazine was like losing a child.

I did meet some very interesting people during that time period. Anyone from the UK reading this and old enough will probably recognize the name Keith Johnson, founder of Keith Johnson Photographic, later just called KJP, which was the largest chain of photo shops in the. UK. By 1994 he had sold the company and moved to his vineyards and winery in Sussex, where he was producing a very nice wine called Sussex Gold. He invited me, Michael Barrington-Martin and Bob Dove, two of the PIC writers there for a day. Keith had opened a restaurant there and had a nice big meeting room. We discussed having some photo workshops there, but that never came to pass. I had taught some workshops in London by then as well as in Germany, and was looking to expand, but things just didn’t work as well over there. The logistics were horrific and ate up any profit. Eventually, I settled down to the USA and Caribbean, where the logistical problems were fewer. My outdoor workshops were held here in Virginia on forest land I owned, in Florida on St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, and in Nevada at the Valley of Fire State Park. In the Caribbean I used beaches and private estates on St. Thomas, USVI. I had people from Europe and Japan come to these, which was easier than taking my show to them. I also conducted many studio workshops in my Radford studio, which had been specifically set up for teaching. It was big enough (35 x 80 feet) to have multiple sets active at the same time. Of course, I lost my studio when I was convicted, along with practically everything else…..


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 at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here



Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, Cameras, Friends of TWS, History, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #12


Portrait of Marion Franklin by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


Letters From Prison: Part 10, 2018


Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018


One thing that always comes up when people talk to me about Marion is our age difference. When I first met her in April of 2002, she was eighteen and I was fifty-four. Some have been highly critical of me for having a relationship with such a great age difference. In 2002 I had been working with models since the sixties, and the only reason I can say with certainly that I’d photographed over two hundred women is that I have signed model release forms from all of them (minus some the police took and never gave back!). You may not believe me, but I swear it’s true that in all those years with all those beautiful young women, I never had a romantic relationship with any of them. The opportunity was there, but I was a straight arrow, keeping business and personal life totally separate. As any woman I ever photographed will attest, no matter how sexually suggestive the poses, I was always completely professional and respectful. That’s just me. Sure, there has to be a sexual tension – a spark – between photographer and model to produce good images, but it works best when this connection is sublimated, kept simmering below the surface. Anything else and the sexual tension gets in the way and you might as well forget photography. Now I know I speak only for myself here and other photographers may have a different philosophical approach, but I learned over the years what works for me. And it worked very well, so much so that the federal judge in a suit I filed in 2005 (that’s a story for another time) called me “a renowned photographer with a long-established reputation.” Although I didn’t have romantic relationships with them, many models I worked with became good friends. Five of them write to me here regularly, and one even sends me money.

The point of this is that the Radford police and prosecutor knew nothing about me, and instead of learning the truth as the federal judge had done, they created a fantasy Bob Shell. who was nothing like the real me.

When Marion first walked into my studio that day in April of 2002, something happened that had not happened to me since 1967 (that, too, is another story.). It was like a lightning bolt shot between us. We both felt it as Marion later told me. We shot a lot of still photos that afternoon and about twenty minutes of video. Marion was simply a natural model. Although she’d had minimal experience, doing her first modeling earlier that year, I hardly needed to direct her at all. She moved from pose to pose fluidly, and seemed to just know what looked good to the camera. After that first test session I couldn’t wait to bring her back. Problem was that she was living in Boone, NC, more than four hours away, and her old Subaru wagon wasn’t in the best of shape. But we made do and I brought her up for sessions as often as I could. That summer she was living with a tattoo artist, and she told me that he tied her up for sex. She liked being restrained, she said, but complained that he tied the ropes too tight. She brought some Polaroid photos one time that a former boyfriend had made of her tied up. The photography was amateurish, but it was clear that she enjoyed it.

By late summer I was forced to admit that I had fallen for her – hard! We had begun spending time together in the bed in my studio after shoots, but there was no sex because I was still very conflicted about the idea of a relationship with a model, and did have concern about the age difference.

Marion had taken to my studio quickly, and began assisting me when I was working with other models. In October I offered her a full-time job modeling and assisting me in my studio and office. I found her an apartment one block from my studio and she moved to Radford. The apartment was owned by the same people I rented my studio from, and was half the ground floor of a large old building. It had two bedrooms, a living room, a dining room, and the usual kitchen and bath. Lots of room. We set about furnishing it with trips to factory outlets in Southside Virginia, where there are furniture factories. Ended up with some nice stuff at very low prices.

So, we spent the rest of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 in a frenzy of work, doing photo sessions almost every day, some in my studio, and some in my “outdoor studio,” forest land I owned about a half hour’s drive away. Marion loved the outdoor shoots. She was a country girl at heart and felt completely at ease in the woods. Frequently I had to end the shoots because I was worn out, or she would want to stay until the light was too dim for pictures. After the shoots we’d usually lie around for a while on a blanket and talk just as we did in the studio bed.

I still feel that some of those outdoor photos are the best in my career. Some of them, though not bondage images, are featured in my book Erotic Bondage: Art Of Rope. I put them in as counterpoint to the bondage images. (At this time in late 2002 and early 2003 I was transitioning from film to digital. Some of the book’s images are from film, some from digital, and I don’t believe anyone can tell which is which. I’d worked since the 80s with Canon EOS cameras, so it was natural for me to take to the EOS 10D when it came along – all my lenses fit! But Nikon had invited me out to Colorado in 2002 for a product introduction, and gave me a Nikon D100 and accessories to evaluate, and so some of the photos for the book were taken with that camera, and those taken on film were shot with a Rollei 6008i, a Minolta Maxxum 9 and a Leica M7. So much for brand loyalty! All major camera brands are capable of professional results in the right hands.)

To be continued…..


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 at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here

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