Bob Shell: On Photography

Photo by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

Photography and Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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On Photography

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Someone asked me recently why I wasn’t posting much about photography anymore. Before my conviction in August of 2007, I was ‘a renowned photographer with a long-established reputation,’ to quote Federal Judge Glenn Conrad. I’d been doing photography/cinematography since my teens in the early 1960s, following in the footsteps of my father, who was an avid photographer/cinematographer. He had numerous cameras and lenses, still and 16 mm movie cameras, and a nice darkroom in the basement of our house in Roanoke, Virginia. 

The first time I saw an image I’d photographed magically appear on a blank sheet of photo paper when I dunked it into the developer, I was hooked. 

People today who grow up using digital photography on smartphones never experience that magic moment. I find that sad. 

Over the years I’ve been in prison I’ve watched traditional photography die. First one, then another, then one by one, all of the photography magazines have died. At its peak, there were dozens of photography magazines. I’d get seven or eight a month. Popular Photography had over a million subscribers at its peak. 

Today, I get two photography magazines, Nature Photographer (www.naturephotographermag.com) and Professional Photographer, the magazine of the Professional Photographers of America, to which I belonged for many years. If others have survived as print magazines, I’m not aware of them. 

Even Digital Camera, the magazine I worked for after Shutterbug, is now gone. My favorite of all, and one I wrote many articles for, Rangefinder, is history. 

I also get Digital Imaging Reporter, today’s incarnation of Photo Industry Reporter, a trade publication I used to write for, but it’s published erratically these days. 

Of course, there are some Internet photography magazines, but, so far as I know, nobody has been able to make any real money from an Internet photography magazine, and if a magazine can’t make real money, it can’t attract, pay, and keep good editors and writers, who have to support themselves and their families. 

The once-popular hobby of photography has seriously declined. Any hobbyist who wants to own the finest film cameras ever made can do so for pennies on the dollar, although if they need service, finding someone who can repair them may not be easy. Friends of mine have bought Hasselblad, Mamiya, Bronica, Rollei, Contax, Leica, Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, etc., outfits very cheaply. Darkroom equipment is even cheaper. 

Although the selection is limited, film is still readily available, but you may be unable to buy it locally. In fact, increased demand has even induced Kodak to put one version of Ektachrome back into production. 

I’ve tried to keep up with photographic technology, despite the fact that I haven’t so much as touched a camera in over fourteen years, and have yet to even see one of the mirrorless cameras that are fast taking over for SLRs. 

My cameras, lenses, and other photographic equipment is all in storage, and will remain until my release. Hopefully I won’t be too decrepit by then to rebuild my studio and life as a photographer. 

I used many different cameras over my years in photography. During two different periods I owned camera shops, first for several years in the 1970s, then from 1980 until 1990. The cameras that were my workhorses in 35 mm were Canon, and continued to be until my career was ended in 2007. I wrote several books about Canon, including ‘Canon Compendium,’ the official history of the Canon Camera Company. 

In medium format, I used Bronica S2a cameras with their superb Nikkor lenses before switching to Rollei SL66 in the mid-1970s. I continued with Rollei, using their advanced 6000 series up to my last Rollei, the 6008i, an amazingly capable camera. 

In large format I used a Toyo 4 X 5 monorail view camera with several Schneider-Kreuznach lenses in my studio, and a Zone VI field camera outdoors with those same lenses. 

In the rare instances when a client wanted 8 X 10, I had an old Eastman 2D camera made in 1918 that I used. It still worked fine. I fitted it with a Voigtlander Apo-Lanthar 300 mm lens in a Compur Electronic shutter, matching old to new. 

When Polaroid made 8 X 10 film, I shot quite a bit of it in that camera using a borrowed Polaroid processor. 

I was an early adopter of digital photography, though, and was doing most of my work with Canon and Nikon digital SLRs by 2002, but the speed at which traditional photography collapsed was a total surprise, and shock, to me and most of the industry. Luckily, I was able to sell most of my medium format pro cameras before the bottom completely dropped out of the market, using the money to pay lawyers, several of whom said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll never spend a day in prison.’ Here I sit, fourteen years later, still in prison for something that never happened. It is ridiculously difficult to get a false conviction overturned in today’s American legal system.

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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 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/hidden-truth_ufos-pentagon/

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.

Darkroom Rental

The Ward Studio Darkroom

Darkroom: Black and white processing and printing services.

This is the darkroom where Tony Ward spent countless days, months and years making thousands of gelatin silver archival prints for his well known body of black and white photographs exploring various subjects including; portraiture, fashion, nude and erotic photography of which he became world renowned.

 

The darkroom was built in 1985.  This unique creative space is available for rent to the public at The Ward Studio on a per project basis.  Photographers that rent the darkroom may keep processing chemicals for developing film and prints stored at the studio for ongoing darkroom sessions.

 

Price for darkroom rental:

We offer a four hour minimum at $175.00. Any time over the first four hours is charged at $50.00 per hour. Photographers are responsible for their own chemistry. Amber bottles are best for storage.

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Price for darkroom consultation:

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Professor Tony Ward is available for one on one consultations regarding darkroom process and technique at $200.00 per hour. 

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Location: 704 South 6th street Philadelphia, Pa. 19147

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To schedule a darkroom session:

Contact: Tony@TonyWard.com

Phone: 267-475-0828

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Note: Any person using the facility must present proof of being vaccinated for Covid.

Bob Shell: Nudes in National Parks

Photo: Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021

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Nudes in National Parks

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One of my friends was the late Galen Rowell, mountaineer/photographer.

At one of the NANPA conferences (North American Nature Photographers Association, of which we were both founding members), we were just kibitzing about different things. The subject of the ‘Nude in Nature’ photography workshops I’d been conducting for years came up. 

I don’t know if our conversation spurred it or if his inspiration came from elsewhere, but Galen took on the subject in one of his regular monthly columns in Outdoor Photographer magazine. He was unprepared for the firestorm of outrage he created by suggesting that the nude was a valid subject to be photographed in our national parks. The magazine was deluged with angry letters, he told me. 

That struck me as very strange, since some of our finest photographers from Edward Weston on photographed nudes in national parks. At the time Galen wrote about it there was no rule against nude photography in National Parks. I don’t know if there is now. 

When I first got the idea for my workshops, I contacted the National Park Service about conducting them in one of our national parks. Basically, they didn’t say ‘No,’ but made it clear I’d be bogged down in bureaucratic BS if I pursued the idea. So I gave up on the idea and put it on a back burner. 

I won’t go into detail here, but ultimately I discovered that the bureaucratic paperwork load was much more manageable with state parks. That’s why I ended up holding my workshops in The Valley of Fire State Park, northwest of Las Vegas next to Lake Mead. I had to carry insurance indemnifying the State of Nevada for one million dollars in liability, but since I was only buying it for two days it wasn’t very expensive. Then I had to pay into Workman’s Comp. for the models, even though they weren’t my employees. That was expensive, but, again because it was only for two days, I got most of it back at the end of the year. Then there were forms after forms to fill out, but I managed and held successful workshops there annually through 2002. 

It was worth the hassle to photograph beautiful nudes in those gorgeous settings. 

My arrest forced me to cancel my planned 2003 workshop there. Even though I was ‘free’ on bond, the court would not allow me to leave Virginia. 

Why are so many people in this country so hostile to nudes, in nature or anywhere else? I don’t have all the answers. 

Part, I think, is that this is basically still a Puritan country. We tout our First Amendment right to freedom of expression, but tend to freak out if that expression includes nudity. 

When I was Editor of SHUTTERBUG magazine, our headquarters were in Titusville, Florida. For those not familiar with the area, Titusville is right across the Indian River from Cape Canaveral, where NASA’s launch facilities are located. 

North of the Kennedy Space Center is Canaveral Seashores National Park. For many years the most northern part of these beaches was traditionally a nude beach. People went there to enjoy the ocean and the beach au naturelle. They bothered no one. 

Some of the local ‘Christian’ churches got all in a dither over it, and got the county to pass an ordinance forbidding nudity on the beaches. Beside the road leading to the beaches they erected a big sign forbidding nudity. 

My response was to photograph a nude model leaning against the sign. Such idiotic nonsense! 

When I told my doctor about this nonsense, he commented that he’d known far more people harmed by not seeing nude bodies. 

If I’d stuck to photographing still life and landscapes, which make up the bulk of my photography, and not photographed nudes, particularly ‘erotic’ and ‘fetishistic’ nudes, I’d probably still have my freedom. I’m in prison because the judge and jury were offended by my nude photographs, pure and simple. I broke no laws, never had criminal intent, contributed in no way to my girlfriend’s death, but offending community standards was what got me put away. That’s America today.

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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 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/alien-artifacts-fungus-on-mars/

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.

Heads Held High: The Work of Jamel Shabazz by Aliana Ho

Photo: Jamal Shabazz

Text by Aliana Ho, Copyright 2021

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Heads Held High: The Work of Jamal Shabazz

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In looking at the work of Jamel Shabazz, an aura of confidence and righteousness radiates out of his images. There is no doubt that each subject is aware, and focused, on the camera, and giving a show to the audience, with chests puffed and heads high. His work radiates a certain something, and is best explained by Fab 5 Freddy’s introduction to Shabazz’s book Back in the Days: “If among the many emotions you feel while viewing these photos, cool comes to mind, here’s why – back then, cool was all about having the right flavor and savoir faire. Such a style blended a certain brand of rebelliousness with a casual nonchalance…” (pg 4). This “cool”-ness is captured with grace, style, and a sense of excellence in all of his work.

Shabazz’s image “Partners”, taken in 1999, is a prime example of his ability to capture the suave nature of his subjects with pride. The two subjects of this image are a classic snapshot of time. The late 90’s aesthetic oozes from the color and framing of the two men, in the flexed muscles and unfazed eyes. “Payback is a bitch” stares you down as the gladiator man at the bottom of the frame looks like he could give a little wink if you looked hard enough. The warmth of their skin tones against the tiled walls feels like summer time, as the gaze of the man on the right pierces through the heat. The use of the flash creates a distinct outline of a shadow behind each man and produces a punchy contrast, forcing the eyes on his subjects, and the gaze of the subjects back to you. 

According to his publisher’s book synopsis for Shabazz’s fourth book, Seconds of My Life (2007), he was “introduced to photography by his father, who kept a signed copy of Leonard Freed’s Black in White America on the family’s coffee table” at the age of nine, and from there on out, he felt a strong sense of obligation to capture and portray “his community and the people who gave it life” (Shabazz, 2007). This sense of obligation to community comes across quite beautifully in his images, especially in the ways his subjects are posed. In speaking from my very limited and novice experiences and perspective, I can see a mutual understanding between photographer and subject that produces respect, pride, and self assuredness in his images. Shabazz knows his subjects well enough for them to trust in his vision, and to know that he is capturing them the way they see themselves.

The personal and intimate work of Jamel Shabazz is inspiring to me and my desire to immortalize the beauty and confidence of my community and my friends. Despite there being limited academic literature on Shabazz’s work, I find the work speaks for itself. The merit is in the body language of his subjects, often in public settings, that appear staged but in an organic, comfortable manner. Overall, Shabazz’s prowess has fantastically captured the pride and joy of existing in community as a form of resistance and survival. 

Citations:

Fab 5 Freddy. Back in the Days, by Jamel Shabbaz, PowerHouse Book, 2001.

Shabazz, Jamel, and Lauri Lyons. Seconds of My Life. PowerHouse Books, 2007. 

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About The Author: Aliana Ho is an Anthropology major, Visual Studies & Health Studie Minor student at Haverford College, Haverford, Pa. Class of 2022. To see additional articles by Aliana, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/aliana-ho-love-letters/

Stephen Shore: A Review by Rachel Grand

Photo: Stephen Shore. Copyright 1979

Text by Rachel Grand, Copyright 2021

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Stephen Shore

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Stephen Shore’s Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979

Stephen Shore is an American photographer still living and working today. Shore’s oeuvre is characterized by his highly detailed photographs. They are color film shots, taken on an 8×10 view finding camera. Shore is unique for this type of work. Early on in his career in the 1960s, photography was not so established as a form of high art. His fellow photographers were eager to establish themselves as “fine art” photographers, and used black and white, and or 35 mm film to do so. Shore’s color and large-scale works set him apart and was his form of rebellion against those conventions. Shore was never formally trained, nor an assistant to an established photographer. Nevertheless, by the time he was 23 he had already been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The photograph that is in Haverford College’s collection, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979 is a part of Shore’s series Uncommon Places 1973-81. This series is where Shore investigates the ambivalence of the American landscape. Because of the medium requirements of shooting with such a large camera, with a tripod and long exposure times, Shores photographs are deliberate, posed and complex. 

Shore’s Merced River triumphs in its depiction of landscape, humans and their composition. If the sheer beauty of the landscape was not enough, his framing of it only heightens its intrigue; the curve of the river complements the mountains behind it. The smattering of people around the scene, all in their own world, show the human interaction with the landscape. Shore takes the photograph from a high vantage point, so the figures are small, and the enormity of the landscape takes precedent. What is most remarkable about this work, along with all of Shores work, is the fine detail of the print. With his process of using an 8×10 camera, he is able to sharply capture all of the detail present within the frame. Stephen Shore contributed to the history of photography by creating works of art that were unafraid, technically intricate and bold compositionally.

Work Cited:

Dahó, Marta. Stephen Shore. First edition. New York: Aperture, 2014.

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About The Author: Rachel Grand is a recent graduate at Bryn Mawr College majoring in Fine Arts and History. Class of 2021. To access additional articles by Rachel Grand, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/jewish-in-the-bi-co/