. Photography and Text by Ed Simmons, Copyright 2018
VENICE BEACH TRASHED
OK, like the way most things go in Venice, we should hope too that this is transitory. God only knows it ain’t normal this blight. Walk out onto the sand, step in someone’s shit, maybe get stuck by a syringe flung out from someone’s tent. This group shows literally no respect. For half a century I’ve floated in and out of Venice Beach, California. LA’s ghetto on the sand. I’ve watched it change. Every time it seems when an uproar over one group is raised and the group gets run out, something worse always fills the vacuum. What i’m seeing today, for tomorrow is scary.
House keeping on the sand. Yeah, thats right. Weekly maid service for the homeless. What happens each Friday, people camped out on the sand, camped out on most all the side alleys connecting the Speedway to the Ocean Front Walk. They gather up whatever belongings they wish to keep, then move it up and out of the way, while waiting for the mess they don’t want to be taken away. So, I wonder whether this “Every Friday Morning Venice Beach Cleanup Routine” might just be feeding a vicious cycle of co-dependency. These kooks, not cleaning up their own mess, leaving their trash all over the side streets and sand, should be fined handsomely, then run out of town.
Certainly what we’re seeing here is a public health problem. However, I’m guessing some of this situation could get resolved soon. After years of blocking chainstores from occupying any boardwalk storefront space, Starbucks is helping out by contributing some decent restroom facilities. Lord knows, the public bathrooms haven’t been able to handle the homeless load.
In other news, Snapchat employees moved in to town. The rents went up and the price for a regular cup of coffee went up too. I recently went with a friend for some lunch. New management at an old spot set in. We ordered a couple chicken enchalada’s, each with rice and beans, no chips, no salsa, no service, no cheese, $26 bucks, yes,… $26.00 bucks! I said no cheese on the beans! With Snap Inc. grabbing up all the space on market street, acquiring so many of the storefronts/properties along the boardwalk, prices for everything, everywhere across town now seem to be double what they used to be! They ran the artists out. A few were able to find other spaces, but Market Street was gutted, for years this Venice Street was filled with studios and galleries. Well that ended quick. Snapchat has decided maybe it be better now to move their urban campus to the Santa Monica Airport. It goes without saying things are really hurting here in this little gem of a beach town. I’m praying for life to get better, not continuing to get worse.
Ya really gotta watch your bike in Venice Beach. Seems a lot of wrenching goes on down by the Ocean Front Walk. One could lose a wheel or a seat as fast as a blink of an eye. Early in the morning, right after the first of the month, out on the boardwalk riding, you see signs that people out here been spinning in circles all night, all sprung, so much random stuff flung everywhere. Its sad. Seems anymore all of this is just accepted as normal. ITS NOT!
Please don’t let me be misunderstood. I’ve at times come back to Venice homeless too. Almost anyone can be chopped off at the knees. The Venice Beach community has always had compassion for the down and out. A diverse community of locals, some of whom I’ve known near 40 years in Dogtown all have a home. I know this guy, this old friend is a savant. I was hanging with him just the other day. We were talking about all this mess left out all around his home. You don’t see any tents pitched anywhere near his spot. His oasis. He keeps it clean. So we were talking, I told him my birthday was coming up in a few days. That I was turning 66. He said “your a Dragon”. I said yes, a Water Dragon. His eyes lit up. He said “interesting you know that, I then said my Mother was an Earth Dragon”. Then we started talking about the order of elements in the Chinese Astrological Chart and how it represented a cyclical world, then “The Boy” took off on an oratory of both Chinese Astrology, the Zodiac, then finished up with a Miles Davis primer. That old friend I admire. He ain’t letting go of his Venice Beach. Much respect for him!
A statement usually made at weddings. In this circumstance I am talking about when family members get sick, or pass away. Nothing breaks up a functional family like death, inheritance money, and assets. I come from a very large family. My dad is one of 9 children, and my mother is one of 5 children. I could not have asked for better family as a child on either side. Everyone supported each other, huge holiday parties, happy hours, and summers on the River.
When my grandparents died on both sides the family dynamic changed drastically. All of the sudden everyone was arguing over possessions. A grieving family left behind is a dangerous thing if nothing is sorted out before the death occurs. A sibling who feels slighted in a grieving state only becomes resentful, and is almost impossible to console. A decade later some of the family is still divided. I hope one day they can drop the superficial issues they have with each other. You never know when someone walks out the door if that’s the last time you will see them.
In a totally different situation, I had back to back years of my parents getting sick and almost dying. The experiences were like night and day. Having gone through it to a certain degree, I get it. I sat in the hospital numb, with my mom and her newly diagnosed autoimmune disease crippling her muscles. Polymyositis is a muscle disease that involves inflammation of the muscles or associated tissues, such as the blood vessels that supply the muscles. A myopathy is a muscle disease, and inflammation is response to cell damage. My mother went from being healthy to lying in a hospital bed not being able to lift her head or swallow. Her best friends were amazing. I would not have survived that time if not for them. My mother’s other two brothers and their wives were also a great help to her, along with everyone who contributed to her new home.
I have my own built up anger towards superficial cousins from that side of the family. They wouldn’t come see my mother in the hospital, help move her from her place, visit the assisted living home she was in, or help move her into her new place. Yet, I was receiving invitations to wedding showers, weddings, and holidays. To me there was nothing to celebrate. When their only excuse for not seeing their aunt was, “we were living our lives”. My response to their most genuine invite was, “excuse me while I get to live mine again”. I did not want to take part in celebrating their lives when my mother almost lost hers. She is in remission, working, and will be on disability for the rest of her life.
On the other hand, I have my father who I am the spitting image of. He had been sick with cancer for quite some time. Last winter it took a turn and I almost lost him in the emergency room. This was a totally different experience despite having to work through it. When I could not be there I received text and call updates from every friend and family member that stopped to see him. His hospital room was like a party at one point. That is how I imagined support to be going through something like that. It only confirmed that I should feel that way about the previous experience. My cousin Mike takes time out of his work day to go to doctor appointments I cannot take off for, being an only child that means the world to me. We are very lucky to have him and everyone else that has been there for us through this time.
My mother and I are very different personality wise. She is a saint, and way better human inside then I can strive to be. She taught me to be resilient; to get up when life throws you down and become a better person. She didn’t let me give up on myself when I was recovering from my car accident, and always reminds me it is the little things in life that truly matter. She deserved that same level of support that my father had in the hospital. If I have learned anything from both situations; it is to pick and choose my battles and be happy in the moment.
I also believe in choosing your family. After experiences like these I quickly found out who would be there for me when it counted.Even if I don’t get to see them all the time, I have some very irreplaceable friends that I consider family. My boyfriend Oliver also refused to give up on me through all of this. I was pushing him away unintentionally with my emotional highs and lows, I did not want to put all of that on him. I was used to dealing with it on my own, that I knew how to do. Letting him in took some time to break down the giant wall I had built up. He took me to the hospital after his 12 hour days, sat with me, wiped every tear from my face, and made me laugh when I thought I forgot how to.
As the holiday season approaches, before you start arguing over who will be hosting what party, and making what dishes. Ask yourself, “Is this worth the argument”? Ask your single family members “are you happy”? Not “when you are going to have a family”? Take photos with your parents. Ask them if they need help, as we age if you are tired your parents are exhausted. Keep the traditions your grandparents started, bake cookies, and decorate. Be there for your friends who may not have family here. I am very fortunate to celebrate another holiday season with my parents. I am going to remind both how far they have come, and how truly grateful I am to have such strong resilient parents. Happy Holidays!
About The Author:
Katie Kerl. Born 1984. Raised in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.
Attended Drexel University for Behavioral Psychology .
Occupation : commercial/ residential design
Philadelphia resident since 2011 .
Hobbies include : Foodie, whiskey drinker, fitness , cooking , tattoos , & house music lover .
Maybe photography is in the genes. My father was an avid photographer, and my sister and I both got the bug. One of my great uncles, Hank Jewell, was pretty famous as a photographer in southwest Virginia in the late 1800s and early 20th century. One of his cameras is on display in the historical museum in Christiansburg, Virginia. He took the famous photograph of Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler. The historical society has the “outtakes” from this session, all on glass plates about 4 x 5 inches. Unfortunately, when Hank died his family had no appreciation of the value of his work and hauled all his negatives to the dump. By the time historians heard, it was too late, since it had rained several times. Sad and stupid! Reminds me of how C. S. Lewis’s brother took all of C. S.’s papers out back of the house after his death and built a bonfire of them. Luckily, some people got there and put out the fire before all was consumed. Some Lewis stories now exist only in fragmentary form because of this act of amazing stupidity.
Paper, after all, is a fugitive medium for us to store our memories upon. For many years archeologists believed that the Phoenicians had no written language. Then it was discovered that they did, only they wrote on paper. Their climate didn’t preserve paper, unlike the arid climate in Egypt. No one knows what they wrote, but we’ve lost it all to a damp climate.
Personally, I’m one more of those who believe there was a highly advanced civilization on earth before the last ice age, which obliterated almost all traces. I think this is the real explanation for most of those mysteries discussed on TV shows like the mostly absurd “Ancient Aliens.” Ockham’s Razor says that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.
Anyway, as usual I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was talking about Uncle Hank’s photography. I never knew him, but my father knew him well. As did Doug Lester, one of the photographers who influenced me as I was learning. Doug and his wife Ruth owned Lester’s Foto Shop on Main Street in Christiansburg for many years. Doug knew more about photography than any two other photographers I knew then. I used to hang around the shop and talk photography with him between customers. He was a diehard Rolleiflex partisan; used them for his photography and sold them in his shop. He influenced me to trade in my Bronica S2a outfit for a Rolleiflex SL66, probably the finest camera I ever owned in terms of build quality. And the Zeiss lenses for the system were simply awesome. The major drawback of this camera (besides high price) was the big focal plane shutter, which could only synchronize with electronic flash at 1/30 second or slower. In the studio that was no problem, but it got in the way of outdoor fill flash. Rollei offered three lenses, 50, 80, and 150 with built-in leaf shutters with synchronized shutter speeds up to 1/500 second to get around this, but they were very expensive. Eventually I tracked down a used 150 that I could afford and used it for several years. But, by then Rollei had abandoned the SL66 system in favor of the SLX and its successors, offering the same great lenses in updated multicoated versions with electronic leaf shutters that synchronized with flash at all shutter speeds. I started with an SL6006 that I bought broken and rebuilt, and later moved to the SL6008i system. In addition to the Zeiss lenses, Rollei offered some Schneider-Kreutznach lenses, like the 80mm f/2 that I loved. Unfortunately, Rollei never caught up to the digital revolution and I think they’re gone now. I sold my Rollei equipment around 2005, when it still had substantial value, to raise money to put into lawyers’ pockets. I guess I’m lucky in a way since I sold my film cameras when they still had value, even if I was forced to sell to pay legal bills. By 2004 I was essentially a digital photographer, using Canon EOS 10D and Nikon D100 cameras. Why both incompatible systems? Simply that Canon and Nikon both sent me cameras and lenses for editorial evaluation, and I liked both of them. While I was with Shutterbug I never had to buy cameras. After Shutterbug terminated my contract “due to the accusations” I broke down and bought an EOS 10D. I still have it, although it’s in storage. Very fine camera; I shot all of the photos for several books with it. For most editorial work you simply don’t need massive megapixels. The 10D is a six megapixel camera, and that’s plenty for any magazine or book page (most of the photos for my Erotic Bondage book were made with the EOS 10D). For most of my work, today’s cameras with 24 or more megapixels would simply be memory hogs.
When I first got really serious about making a living from writing about photography, my old friend Lief Erickson said, “Well, buddy boy, you must realise that in this business you can either have fame OR fortune.”. Despite his nom de guerre, Lief was 100% English, which is why I wrote realise and not realize, and I’d first met him in the 70s when he was writing for a great old magazine called Camera 35. I’d written him a letter about one of his articles, and he had responded with a long and philosophical letter. We began a correspondence that lasted several years until I met him in NYC at one of the Photo + Expo trade shows at the Javits Center. We talked there and I invited him to start writing for me at Shutterbug. We developed a great working relationship. I’d call him with a ghost of an idea and he’d take it and run with it and invariably deliver a fine, polished article. Probably never what I would have done with that same ghost of an idea, but always excellent. I hardly ever had to edit his work, and when I did it was always for length, to make the article fit the available space. Writing for magazines is very different from writing. for books. because books usually don’t have strict space limits. When I told one of my writers that I needed 2,000 words, I expected exactly 2,000 words. When I had to shorten an article from Lief, or anyone else, it was because a last-minute ad sale had eaten into the allotted editorial space. That happens often in the magazine business.
Lief actually died on assignment for me. He had a heart attack on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way to a press conference I’d asked him to attend in my stead because I couldn’t come up to NYC right then. He’d had heart trouble for years, but I never thought I’d lose him like that. Lief was a mystic/philosopher as well as photographer, and I loved talking to him more than almost anyone else I’ve met in the business often about things having nothing to do with photography.
Anyway, fame or fortune? I ended up with fame, within the photo industry at least. I sure didn’t wind up with fortune. But it was nice within the insular photo industry to be well known. Sometimes I wanted to be anonymous at trade shows, so I’d order two name badges, one in my name and one in the name Fritz Klages. People would walk up, look at my face. then see the name badge and do a double take. “Bob Shell? For some reason people keep telling me we look alike!”
One time at Photo + I was walking around on the trade show floor when several young men approached me. One had a copy of my Mamiya book and asked me to autograph it for him. I did, and handed it back to him. He looked at what I’d written and said, “Wow, man, thanks! Wow, you’re famous, man! Wow!”. I guess my head swelled several sizes, and I probably couldn’t have gotten my hat on just then.
I considered the photo trade shows great fun, particularly the mother of all trade shows, photokina. (Yes, it’s spelled with a lower case “p.”. I don’t know why, but the people who run it insist that it be spelled that way.). This show is enormous, filling multiple buildings of the big Messe complex in Cologne, Germany. Everyone who is anyone in the world of photography comes. I always took advantage of the opportunity to meet people, and become friends with many. And there are some really fine people in the business; for example Lino Manfrotto, whose name you’ve probably seen on tripods and other photo accessories. Lino was a commercial photographer in Italy and was unhappy with the quality of the available light stands, so he designed and built his own
Other photographers saw them in his studio and wanted their own, so Lino started making and selling them. In a few years this business had grown far beyond his photography business, and he’d branched out into tripods and a line of studio accessories you will find today in most studios worldwide. Lino died not long ago, but his son Abramo keeps the family business going. Today the company also makes a line of display fixtures used by department stores. I will always cherish my memories of visiting Lino’s factory complex with him as tour guide and a trip to Venice with Abramo.
At photokina you also run into the real “characters” of the business. One of them is Ken (Sir Kenneth) Corfield, originator of the Periflex, a camera styled somewhat like an older, pre-M series Leica, but unique in that you focused through a small periscope atop the camera, which was retracted before taking the picture. Strange, but it worked. The Periflex was also almost unique in being manufactured in Ireland. Can you name the other camera made in Ireland, made by Timex?
Well, Ken Cornfield also fathered the Corfield 66, an inexpensive medium format SLR. Last time I saw Ken, he was laughing at the silly prices collectors were paying for those. Not that it was a bad camera, just an inexpensive one originally.
The photo magazine business today sure isn’t what it was. Most of the great old magazines are long gone; Modern Photography, PhotoGRAPHIC, Camera, Studio Photography, Camera 35, and many more whose names I’ve forgotten. And I just learned today that Shutterbug has been sold yet again, and the new owners let three of our best people go and have cut back to six issues a year! And to think we once published every two weeks! But these are signs of the times, I guess. As George Harrison sang, All Things Must Pass…
Maybe printed magazines have seen their day, and will go their way into history. But for me the day the last printed magazine rolls off the presses will be a sad day, indeed.
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: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-optics-photography/