the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism.
informal: a person’s usual or preferred surroundings.
The dictionary told me these are the definitions of “habitat.”
I found the word surprisingly fitting for the photo shoot, as the location itself is never quite the habitat for anybody. The room is located in my friend’s home, who also modeled for the project. It is not her or the other girl’s habitat, because it is the “animal room;” however, this room is also not a habitat for an animal, as it is man-made and not “natural,” and the shorthair cat is a type of domestic animal.
What we express emotionally, most of the time, largely depends on the environment around us. With a seemingly natural yet slightly off daily-life setting, I hope to achieve a gradation not only of human emotions, but also artificiality in terms of the project itself. Having the two models making relatively obvious and dramatic facial expressions while standing beside a cat tree that is clearly not designed for human use, the upper part of the photos shows the self-awareness of a deliberate art project. But as if the true loving and caring nature inside the model have precipitated, the bottom half shows the model looking at the cat, and the whole setting becomes more “habitat-like” as it cannot be more suitable for the emotion and atmosphere. While the cat tree is the main prop in this project, I still wanted to emphasize the homely and domestic setting by using only natural light coming from the windows. Through a series of contrast and paradoxical settings, I hope to draw attention to our emotional state with material surroundings, and, ultimately, the question of where exactly can be our habitat?
About The Author: Joy Bao is a senior enrolled at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2020
Photography, Video and Text by Tatiana Lathion, Copyright 2020
The Man, The Basement
In this series, the artist chose to shoot in a basement. Why a basement? Well, in many ways, the basement symbolizes a sort of dark unfinished place, a place where our emotions dwell, where we experience the raw affect of feeling. In reality, many use the basement to store unwanted or unneeded items. It is often a place in a house that remains in a constant need of repair and disorder or casual place of gathering. It is never the first room to be shown to guests and is often times never shown to guests. In horror movies, it is the place where a character meets their death and is often associated with uneasy feelings. A finished basement is never the norm and is often met with surprise as people expect its rough edges. In this series, it symbolizes the place where we hide away our emotions. It represents the darkest and innermost sense of self, where we are allowed to express ourselves.
The subject of this series is a young black male, dressed in all black clothing. In this series of images, he expresses four emotions: sadness, despair, happiness, and love. In the hyper masculine society that we dwell within, there exists a societal standard that inhibits a free, uncritical expression of emotion from the male population. In many ways this is only intensified by the subjects blackness. In our society, the black population in the United States cannot afford to express emotions freely for being fearful of being viewed as weak, irrational, or unhinged by the ruling state. Instead, a burden is enforced in many minority households of this population to uphold and withhold their emotional state from others. Emotional expression is thus rejected two-fold for the subject of this series. However, in this darkened place, the subject is encouraged to express an emotional state. This symbolizes the inner emotional conflict of the subject, which is often never revealed to the general public.
In short, this series of images constitutes a small glimpse into the soul of the subject. It symbolizes the raw emotional state of the self and the continuous growth of human emotion. The subject and the setting are juxtaposed against shinny silver garland that is hung on the exposed pipes of the basement. For me, the reflective material represents an attempt to dress the dark unfinished parts of the human soul. It reflects the light and seems unnatural in the space and yet it adds to a concept of improving the self and allowing for emotional expression. I feel as though self-care and self-love has become this very surface level movement that attempts to improve years of trauma and emotional suppression with a face mask or some trivial material fix. However, to really heal and fix the human soul, it takes work and emotional upheaval of that suppression.
This series, attempts to create a visual representation of an abstracted construction of the holding place for the subjects emotions. It touches on the suppression of emotion by the subject and an expanded identity as well as attempts to reconstruct the artificial attempts to heal emotional trauma.
About The Author: Tatiana Lathion is a senior enrolled at Haverford College majoring in Political Science and Government.
Photography and Text by Huiping Tina Zhong, Copyright 2020
THE STORIES WE TELL
The Construction of Narratives Through Performativity of Emotions
This is the first time for me to use an analog camera, hence every aspect of each strip of film fascinates me. The shape of the film reminds me of comic strips, which inherently signify the progress of a narrative, usually chronologically. I set the shooting space to be a space with arches, while each emotion is performed in a different arch, as if the arches are the frame of a stage or a painting, or a hole through which people peek through to view early forms of motion pictures. Different emotions are signified through different pieces of accessories on the same body, and sometimes even only through accessories, in other words, the absence of a body. In the schema, time proceeds both horizontally and vertically, and hopefully creating various storylines for each inspector.
In the first arch is sadness. The signifier of sadness is a pilot helmet. In my understanding, a pilot is isolated in the plane, and the helmet reminds me of war. In the first scene, the pilot is sitting by herself, and in the second round, she is embracing herself with sorrow. What happened? Maybe she has lost her fellow soldiers.
In the second arch is love. Looking out, she seems to be waiting for someone, and she seems to be enjoying her time. I chose a colorful skirt to represent the passion and the exuberance of young love. And when the lover arrives, she joyfully jumps in the air.
In the third arch, despair is represented through index, a trace of a body that was once here: gloves, shoes, a big coat, and a hat. It can be interpreted in various ways, but it can signify the loss of a life, which resonates with war, and even with love. Perhaps it is the lover that was lost to the pilot. The two scenes of despair is the same, because an absent body remains absent.
The last arch is happiness. She wears a pair of extravagant sunglasses with a golden frame, in the first scene she seems to be greeting someone happily, but in the second scene she is gone. Where is she? Is happiness now lost? It is open to the readers’ interpretations.
But let us return to the notion of the construction of a narrative. Although the inherent nature of an analog film strip is that it is indexical and chronological, life often does not have a clear plot line, and our memory of life gets entangled together to form our perception of the world, of our existence. This messy mixture of emotions and anachronistic events becomes the narrative that we construct for ourselves, while the difference between reality and performed memory becomes imperceptible.
About The Author: Huiping Tina Zhong is a senior majoring in Art History at Bryn Mawr College.
I was looking through the archives recently and came across a photo of Frank Kelly, the man about town who defined mens fashion and style in Philadelphia during the 1970’s and 80’s. Frank was a style icon that I truly admired. Always dressed to the nines, tall, handsome and seemingly always in a good mood. He worked as a model between gigs in Philadelphia and New York and eventually became one of the most successful fashion salesman in Philadelphia, where his customers felt they could take advice from him on what to wear in a boardroom or casually on the street. He was incredibly charming and charismatic, qualities that defined his ability to sell to a wide range of customers. Frank worked at various boutiques and eventually finished his career at Burberry’s until his retirement. Frank passed away in 2018 at the age of 79.
Finally something good to report! In early January, I was transferred to the GLU (Good Living Unit, pronounced like ‘glue’). It’s for people who don’t cause trouble, and there are 88 of us out of a population of a thousand. You have to be charge-free for a year to get in, and I’ve been charge-free for almost three years. Nobody will steal from me here, and I won’t be attacked. It’s great to be able to relax for a change.
We get incentives to be good. Once a month we get a pastry, cookie, etc., we have a small library of books we can read, we go to chow first every day, and every weekend we see recent movies on one of our big HD TVs. Recently, we saw Once Upon A Time: In Hollywood, which I found very slow-paced and way too long. The whole mood of this pod is radically different from others I’ve been in.
I take Celebrex twice a day for arthritis, and have to stand outdoors in a long line to get it, regardless of the weather. All my other pills are ‘self med,’ which means they give me a thirty day supply to keep in my cell and take every day. In the year and a half that I was at River North, I had Celebrex as self med, but here at Pocahontas they won’t let me have it that way. Pocahontas is security level 2/3, while River North is 4/5. So it makes no sense that I can’t have my Celebrex as self med here.
Recently, I stood in line for more than forty-five minutes to get my morning pill, the temperature below freezing, in a mix of rain and snow. I complained about having to do this for a single pill, and took my complaint all the way to the VDOC head office in Richmond, who said my complaint was ‘unfounded.’ Standing out in the weather aggravates my arthritis, the very thing the pill is for.
But, that’s typical of the VDOC. When I first came into the system back in 2008, I was complaining to a Sergeant about some policy. He said, “Mr. Shell, your problem is that you expect things to make sense. This is the DOC. NOTHING MAKES SENSE! Get that through your head and you’ll do just fine.” He was right, nothing in the system makes sense.
I read recently in Prison Legal News magazine (www.prisonlegalnews.org) about a man in another state who was given a belt by prison staff, and later given a charge for having it. Reminded me of the time I wrote a letter to a lawyer on a prison law library typewriter, and was given a charge for doing it, even though that’s one of the stated purposes of the typewriters. I was kicked out of the law library for six months over that! I appealed, of course, but my appeals were denied at every level. So that ridiculous charge is still on my record, and I was set back six months in my legal work to get my false convictions overturned.
My book COSMIC DANCE has received many positive reviews. If you haven’t read it yet, please buy and read it. It’s on Amazon under my name, also available from www. odalysllc.com, the company that did the grunt work on it and got it published.
I’m in good company. Amazon recently signed Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell to write books directly for them, bypassing traditional publishers. This move has publishers terrified, and for good reason. Amazon can get a book into its distribution channels faster than regular publishers. Unfortunately, it’s another nail in the coffin of independent bookstores, who won’t have access to these books. I love the bookstore experience. Browsing online just can’t touch it. When I was in college at Virginia Tech, I worked in an independent bookstore, and have fond memories.
I go up for geriatric parole again in March. So far I’ve gone up before the parole board eight times, and been turned down eight times. I’m a perfect candidate for parole, and was dismayed by all these turndowns, until I figured it out. Someone is sabotaging my parole attempts. I don’t know who it is, but I have my suspicions. Probably the same person who kept going onto my Wikipedia bio page and putting lies on there. Research has indicated that this was Marion’s aunt, who still must believe the nonsense spouted at my trial by the medical examiner. I’ve had proof that his testimony was nonsense, to use a polite word for it, for some time in the form of statements from prominent pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht and Dr. William T. Gormley, Chief Medical Examiner for Virginia. Anyone who hasn’t read it should go to my website, www.bobshelltruth.com and read Dr. Gormley’s interview. I’ve sent this to the Parole Board several times, but they choose to ignore it.
Dr. Gormley did tests that proved conclusively that Marion was never dead in my presence, disproving the prosecutor’s idiotic theory that she was dead the last time we had sex. I’ve never had sex with any woman who was not a fully aware consenting adult in my entire long life. I’m 73 as of last December, and my reputation on that score was unblemished until the Radford cops and prosecutors set out to destroy me. Their reasons were political, having absolutely nothing to do with any alleged crimes.
Many of you continue to ask about and wish me well in my quest to get my precious forest back. The case is still in court, but a lawyer suggested a new tactic to me, and I’m pursuing it. I’m going after the two lawyers involved in the sale, whose actions were certainly unethical, possibly illegal. I will pursue this to the end, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs.
On another topic, most of the contents of my photography studio are in a rented storage unit. Some of you have already helped me keep the monthly rent paid, but any who haven’t and are willing to help, please let me know and I’ll let you know how to help. All my contact info is on my website, www. bobshelltruth.com , the website friends built for me
Until next time, my friends, you have all my best wishes.
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. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/photography/
Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.