Fantasy Fashion League: Why be a Spectator When You Can Play the Game?
Fashion has always held a special place in my heart. I could say that I simply didn’t understand fashion as a child and all of her complicated ideals and rules, but the truth is: there was a certain freedom in breaking them and challenging what we are and are not “allowed” to wear. It’s funny how those with little to no experience in the industry are so ready to judge others for being creative with the art form of fabric, or lack thereof (me included). But recently I have been blessed with experiences in this passion of mine in ways I never even imagined.
I was granted an internship with the fabulous Catherine Trifiletti right at the time she was releasing a new line of lounge lingerie; as I was setting up her show room for an upcoming event, THE Tony Ward offered to get a head start on photographing the garments by using me as a model. I was so taken aback. I had no experience as a model, but like any young woman who grew up daydreaming about such an opportunity I was thrilled!
The outfits I wore showed more skin than I was used to but I couldn’t help but feel simply beautiful. Tony was so kind and complimentary during the shoot, whether it was true or not he made me feel like a natural. There’s something strangely empowering about staring down the lens of a camera for minutes at a time. I saw the tiny refection of myself in it and no longer saw a girl hurt by her past, but a woman challenging her future.
When the shoot was over, I didn’t find myself disappointed because I knew this adventure was only starting. I was able to witness Tony working with the two actual models, both on our makeshift set and in the gorgeous landscape of Red Rock. I learned so much. Assisting with the outfit changes allowed me to be even more familiarized with the garments I had been working with all week, observing the models showed me that it’s not about what clothes do to the body but how the human body is suddenly aware and confident of it’s intricacies when wearing something equally as beautiful, and watching Tony and his ability to find art within the strangest objects and angles reminded me to continue looking at life in unexpected ways.
While this may be the only time in my life such opportunities fall into place all at once, I am so humbled to have met so many wonderful and talented people. Fashion is truly an art all of its own. I love how it can bring together so many people of completely different skill sets and abilities to make the end results of the pictures seem so effortless and honest. I am truly inspired and intend to create with every given moment just as Tony has done. We’re all going to reach the same ending, may as well make the journey as incredible as possible.
About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a sophomore enrolled at Southern Utah University and summer intern at Catherine Trifliletti Design, Las Vegas.
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: http://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-letters-from-prison-10/