The apartment that I rented in Amsterdam at the turn of the 2000’s was a perfect location for me to work from at that point in time. I had become friends with local businesswoman, Danny Linden who owned a fetish shop on the famous Oudezijds Achterburgwal in the Red Light district. Danny and I became friends and worked on a number of shoots together for her shop. She realized that I was going back and forth to the states on a regular basis between 1999 and 2005 so she offered me to stay at an apartment that she managed just around the corner from her shop on a tiny little street that looked on to rows and rows of prostitute windows. I was such a frequent visitor that they always said hello to me as if I was their neighbor or something. Yes. There was the something too.
In this part of the apartment where I made the photographs of Mel there was natural light entering the living area windows. The warm red walls bathed my models in beautiful afternoon light as we worked through a series of test pictures for the latest body of work.
Mel was one those visitors on a go see. I remember her most as a makeup artist. However, when I saw how exotic she looked I asked to photograph her right there on the spot. No conversation before , it was very spontaneous. I never saw or had the opportunity to work with Mel as a makeup artist this occasion but I do cherish the brief time that we met. It was fun to have bathed her in such beautiful light.
One of the joys of being a photographer for the past 40 plus years is that I’ve accumulated a large body of work and incredible visual memories. In this series of pictures, the subject met me only once but left a trail of images that brings back memories of the days, months and years I worked in Amsterdam photographing some of the most beautiful women in the world.
On September 25th, 2003 I was out having dinner and drinks at Club Nl, a very well known night club in the heart of the city that was frequented mostly by locals. This was the place where I often met with Dutch friends to enjoy Amsterdam’s nightlife. It was also a place where I scouted for models.
On this particular evening almost 30 years ago, Frans a close friend mentioned there was a young woman by the name of Layla who wanted to meet me for a casting. Arrangements were made for the prospective model to meet me at the apartment I was renting in the Red light District. Layla arrived on a beautiful sunny afternoon looking forward to the opportunity to meet me with hopes that she could model for one of the magazines of which I was a contributing photographer. She knew that I was a specialist in erotic photography so the sitting went smoothly as she was eager to exhibit her youthful beauty within this small sliver of time that has left lasting visual memories.
We all know that sight, smell, and sound can trigger memory. Neuroscience has proven this to be true, finding that the same part of our the brain that processes our senses is also partly responsible for storing emotional memories. As someone who has on multiple occasions said “this smell reminds me of…” or immediately thinks of someone with just a few notes of a song, I am not at all surprised. I am shocked that it took actual scientific study, though, as it seems a clear and logical connection.
This sensory-emotional connection is very likely the reason the holidays are so overwhelming for many of us. We decorate, we prepare special foods that emit delicious smells, and listen to songs written and performed specifically for this season. These things are tradition, they’ve been done for centuries, passed through generations. It seems nearly impossible to not be triggered into remembering people and holidays past during the extended period of exposure.
While our senses can, and do, link happy memories to all of these things, if you’re anything like me, you sit with the opposite type for a little longer, and compare what is to what was. Who was there to who is gone now, or who wasn’t always but now is. Memory and feeling get all jumbled.
When I pull out the decorations, the ones I hand-selected to match my style and home, I can’t help but think of all the pieces I used to excitedly pull out of their storage boxes to help decorate my childhood home and our tree. There were definitely some ornaments that I tried to avoid using only to find that mom had pulled them out to display after I had finished. Those styrofoam, glittery apples were in a word: hideous. But the year we found the squirrels had gotten into the decorations and destroyed them was sad, and something I always think of when trimming the tree. Those apples were from my parents’ first Christmas tree after they were married. I get it now. Sorry, Mom, but they were still ugly.
When I bake my dozens and dozens of cookies, alone in my kitchen, in the organized, step-by-step, everything-must-be-uniform process I rely on, I remember the way we used to make them growing up. It was an explosion of sugar, flour, and so many sprinkles. It was chaos. The sweetest, happiest chaos of at least half a dozen people in the kitchen and dining room- mixing, rolling, filling, and decorating. Every surface in those two rooms got absolutely covered. We made such a mess. Again, sorry, Mom! But also, thanks. I also recall the batches of cookies that only Grammy made. I loved to see them, didn’t like to eat them – the anisette and almond extracts she loved were not my favorite, still aren’t. I would give up all of the baked goods in the world to have her at the kitchen table with those heavily flavored, secret recipe cookies of hers this Christmas.
I’m not at all religious these days, but a dozen years at Catholic school sure drilled an appreciation for those Christmas hymns into my head. I can even still sing a few of them in Latin. Though, I do prefer the non-religious carols and above all, enjoy the jazzy, swingy versions like those performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. No matter what style they might be sung in, I cannot hear “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” without giggling at my Poppy’s versions. In case you were wondering, he insisted they were “Mark and Harold Angels Sing” and “God Rest Ye Gerry Mendelson.” Newer versions of misheard lyrics have weaved their way into the holiday memories thanks to my nieces and nephews. I think Poppy would have loved them and sang along.
Laughing while crying, smiling but sad, enjoying the presence of others while unable to ignore the void left by those absent. The holidays as an adult have taken a more reflective turn for me. I appreciate that I am able to see Santa and remember that time Aunt Betty decorated her entire bedroom to be Christmas year round. Or that year I learned the truth about how presents magically appeared under the tree after I heard one go thumping down the steps with Grammy chasing behind it cursing in Italian like we didn’t know what she was saying. And the time our extended family pollyanna was too much for the restaurant and Nanny was asked to never book there again. (For the record, I do not blame the management of that establishment at all! We were a lot then, and even more now!) All the visits from distant family friends and relatives, the local ones too, that slowed, stopped and have since faded to memory. All of it that comes rushing back with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, brings with it a twinge of sadness, sure, but most importantly, overwhelming gratitude that in all my years on this planet, I have been completely surrounded by love. No matter what else may change, that never will.
There are at least 14 holidays that occur in December. Each, I am sure, comes with specific sensory-emotion-memory triggers. So whichever one is yours, I wish you the happiest, merriest, best one ever.
About The Author:
Kitchie Ohh is a full-time professional fundraiser who has worked with a number of health and human services nonprofits for over the last 20 years, currently with a food-related Philadelphia nonprofit. She found her passion for modeling after a pinup-style photoshoot in 2013. Since then she’s worked with many talented photographers, stylists, hair and makeup artists in a variety of styles. She has been featured in -and on the covers of- multiple print and digital publications. Over the years she has branched out from pinup studio modeling to serve as a figure model for live sketching, walked a runway, and was part of two campaigns for local Philadelphia designer K. Vaughn.
In addition to her food insecurity-related work, she has also volunteered with art, historical, and community organizations, and even on the events team of a local brewery, pre-pandemic.
You’re just as likely to find her whipping up something deliciously plant-based in her kitchen or knitting a sweater as you are to find her on a photography set. Her motto is “be both.” The model and the homemaker, sultry and sweet, serious and silly. All the things, all at once.
KVaughn called and said he was on his way to New York to select fabrics for his Winter collection of custom made scarves to be released on December 2, 2022. Every time we talk about his trips to New York you can tell his energy easily matches that of the city that never sleeps. On that note, Kevin sent me a few voice notes for this article in an attempt for the reader to gather insight on how his creative process works. They are posted here as a linear series of voice messages. This season he focused on purchasing silks, cashmere and wool for his one of kind custom made scarves. He also hung out with this seasons muse:
VM 1: Friday, November 11, 2022, Magdim Towers, Philadelphia .
VM 2: Arrives in NYC, journey begins.
VM 3: Arrives at Chic Fabrics, 247 West 38th Street, NYC.
VM4: Has lunch at Lazzara’s Pizza Cafe & Restaurant at 221 West 38th st. NYC.
VM5: Muse Adira love arrives for photos and shopping in NYC.
Since we’re now just days away from major elections that can seriously alter the United States, I want to put out a few of my thoughts on the major issues.
I’ve been reading about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which essentially says governments can print all the money they want, deficits don’t matter, and related concepts. After reading what these ‘economists’ believe, I’ve come to think they belong in zoos. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the more money you create out of nothing, called fiat money, the less it will be worth in the real world of goods and services.
By the way, it is called fiat money because the Latin word fiat means, ‘let there be’ as in the Latin Bible, which has God say, “Fiat lux,” ‘Let there be light,’ since God created light from darkness, nothingness. Fiat money is backed by absolutely nothing except faith in the government that prints it. Few people understand this. U S money was originally backed by gold and silver, the gold standard, that we abandoned in the 1970s. Look at money printed before that, and it says ‘Silver Certificate’ on it, meaning the government would, on request, redeem it for silver. Try going to the government today and asking for silver or gold and see how fast the door slams in your face.
Any person with a functioning brain can see that government debt, paid in fiat money, causes inflation. The massive spending and give-away programs of the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as the Obama and Bush administrations before them, have reduced the value of our money. They couldn’t have any other effect.
The reason that Bitcoin and its copiers go up in value instead of down like government-issued money is that there is a fixed, finite number of Bitcoins and the others. No one can ‘print’ more, no government controls them.
Right now, because of Putin’s disastrous policies, the Russian ruble, another fiat currency, is practically worthless.
We should learn the lessons of the old German Weimar Republic that printed so much money the joke was you’d go to the store with a wheelbarrow full of banknotes and come home with a loaf of bread. People wallpapered their houses with money.
That hasn’t happened to the U S dollar yet, but it could if our elected officials continue to act irresponsibly.
And another point. If the government can just print all the money it needs to pay its bills, as MMT theorists say, there is no need or justification for taxes. Think about it.
Now, personally, I think MMT is a load of bollocks, but some very influential academics are spouting it to anyone who will listen, and indoctrinating future generations of economists in it.
And, BTW, the Federal Reserve that controls the money supply is not Federal and keeps no reserve. Fact.
The Federal Reserve was created in 1910 by a cabal of bankers who met in absolute secrecy at Jekyll Island in Georgia to plan how to take control of the USA by controlling the money supply. They included Henry P. Davison, senior partner of JP Morgan, Paul Warburg, founder of Kuhn, Loeb and Co., Frank A. Vanderlip, VP of what is Citibank today, Charles D. Norton, president of Morgan’s First National bank of New York, and other powerful bankers. They wrote what became the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Thus was born ‘The Creature From Jekyll Island,’ the Federal Reserve.
Inflation is sure to be a big factor in the November elections, but as long as the printing presses roll out tons of money daily and the Federal Reserve keeps adding zeros to the bank’s balances, there’s very little the politicians can do about it.
There is nothing in the U S Constitution suggesting a central bank.
Now for the hottest of the hot potatoes, the abortion issue. Personally, I will take the antiabortion folks seriously if every single one of them signs a binding agreement to adopt at least one unwanted baby and raise that baby to adulthood. Put your money where your mouth is, folks!
I know a number of women whose lives were made better by choosing not to have a child they were not equipped to raise.
Abortion is a difficult personal decision that the government has no business intruding into, in my opinion. Because I am a man, I’ve never had to face that heart rending decision that can cause serious psychological harm, no matter which way it is decided.
We have politicized the courts in this country so much that judges can now make law, something they are manifestly not qualified to do. That was never their job. Legislatures exist to create the law, courts exist to enforce it. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, as it is expected to do this summer, this will he a radically different country afterwards. Generations of women have believed their bodies belong to themselves. Now they’re going to learn that their bodies belong to the state. This thought is positively chilling! Orwellian!
Unfortunately, the writers of our Constitution didn’t think to include a right of personal privacy. They probably took it for granted. But we simply have no constitutional right to personal privacy in this country.
France does, as I learned while there. It is illegal there to photograph a private citizen without their permission. Public figures lose a degree of this right, and crowd scenes are another exception. Otherwise I couldn’t photograph the Eiffel Tower without the permission of everyone in the crowd at the base.
But, overall, I think this is an excellent law. French citizens own their bodies, their images, themselves. I imagine some other enlightened European countries have similar privacy laws.
And while I’m on the subject of law, I believe all judges, from the Supreme Court justices down to your local magistrate, should have term limits. Term limits insure an influx of fresh ideas and minds.
Those are just some of my thoughts on the political front. More some other time.
About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. 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 15th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/cancelling_culture/