Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019
The Token Photo Sets
At the beginning of 2001 I was forced out of my job as Editor in Chief of Shutterbug in a disgraceful, underhanded “palace coup.” I had been assured for years that I had ultimate job security, indeed my name was first at the top of the magazine’s masthead, and I had literally turned the magazine from a tabloid on yellow newsprint into a respected photography journal. Behind my back the coup plotters had told the corporate people in New York that I wanted to retire. I definitely did not want to retire. I was at the top of my game, 54 years old and full of energy and creative juices. By the time I realized what was up a new Editor in Chief had been hired and it was too late to stop the changes. I still have very hard feelings about this all these years later. It was some consolation, but not much, that the man who engineered my betrayal was himself out on his ear not too long after.
But, the long and the short of it was that I was still writing and doing other things for Shutterbug, but at exactly half my former income. I had to really scramble to make up the shortfall. I was writing for other photo magazines (while still the Chief Editor for Shutterbug my contract didn’t allow me to write for other photo magazines). But at $ 300 or so per article, that wasn’t bringing in the bucks I needed. A photographer friend in Canada told me about an agency that sold photo sets to token websites. In case you don’t know what a token site is, it is a website that you go on and buy tokens. The tokens can then be “spent” on that site or several others to buy photos and videos for download. I decided to give it a try, and shot some sets of models I knew. The formula was simple, woman starts out fully clothed and strips throughout the photo set until she is nude and then does some “show it all” poses. Some sets introduce sex toys or male partners, but not mine. Around 50 -100 photos per set. That’s it. Pretty much like the photo spreads in the men’s magazines, but more photos. Horny guys would pay to buy tokens and download the photo sets and videos.
Most of the models I knew had no problem with this sort of work, so I worked up a new contract to pay them a posing fee plus a percentage of the profit from the photos. I then wrote a Photoshop action to tweak and resize the images. At first I was shooting on film and using a Nikon Coolscan scanner to batch scan the film strips, but as soon as they came along I bought one of the first Canon digital SLR cameras and shot the photos with it. I believe it was only three megapixels or so, but was plenty good enough for Internet. These photo shoots turned out to be pretty lucrative, giving me and the models money, and the same sets of photos sold over and over as new people discovered them. Of course, this was volume shooting without much creativity, and pretty quickly started to get boring. To relieve the boredom I started shooting my own stuff with the models after we got the token shots in the can. That helped. I did a lot of token sets with Marion after we met. She really liked showing off for the camera. Nice checks were coming in every month. But when I was arrested.in June of 2003 the agency pulled all my photo sets out of circulation. That made me really angry, because I was supposed to be presumed innocent, but my arguments fell on deaf ears. Since nothing ever really vanishes from the Internet, those photo sets are probably still floating around out there in cyberspace. I was just gearing up to add videos when I was shut down. It was nice easy work while it lasted, the models and I often had a hoot shooting the photos, and it helped to keep the bills paid.
Did I have a problem with shooting what was essentially “softcore porn?”. My philosophy was the same as an old friend and photo magazine columnist. He always said, “Shoot anything that pays the bills, but whatever you shoot do the best possible job.”. I agreed.
I understand that today there is so much free stuff on the Internet that pay-per-view sites have a hard time surviving. I know that Marion’s favorite site probably survived, since it was full of free photos and videos. Every morning without fail I could find her in front of our iMac checking out consumptionjunction.com .
I used to look over her shoulder at the really weird photos and videos she loved. When she tired of this we’d watch the Naked News together (www.nakednews.com), a strange news site where the actual news was read by pretty women who stripped while reading. One of the strangest things I’ve seen on the Internet.
Who knew when the Internet first came along that it would become the major purveyor of porn? Just as when TV first came along, people thought its main use would be education — NOT!
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/bob-shell-starting-a-studio/
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.