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.

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/ 

Aliana Ho: Love Letters

Text and Photography by Aliana Ho, Copyright 2021

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Love Letters

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In approaching this assignment, I was drawn to the idea of creating space for reflection. In my own personal reflection on this course and the content I’ve produced, I’ve noticed recurring themes associated with the global pandemic. This pandemic, so deeply ingrained in our collective experiences, has produced such great loss that has been emphasized in so many different forms of expression, almost to an excessive extent. However, the pandemic’s pervasive nature keeps it a relevant and intrusive muse at every attempt of art I make, and often I don’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye.

 

In creating the physical space of the shoot, I included a speaker for music, Oreo cookies for incentive and a token of thanks, and index cards. On these index cards, I asked everyone to write a love letter to someone. I placed no bounds on who the recipient of the letter could be, I just wanted them to sit, reflect on their love for someone, and immortalize it on a colorful index card. Some wrote to their mothers, some wrote to their younger selves, some to their siblings, and some to seemingly random people who got them where they are today. A sentiment that has been circulating the internet right now is the idea that we are all just a collection of habits and quirks of all those we’ve surrounded ourselves with over the years. I wanted to capture the fleeting moments of recognition and appreciation for those people in our lives. 

 

These images represent a piece of ourselves given to this school, this space, and this past year of triumphs and tribulations. To see yourself, and to love yourself is to see and love all of the people who have touched your life, and all of the lives you have touched. I am eternally grateful for the community created out of these trying times, and I hope to never forget the impact every single one of my friends, those pictured and those not, have had on my small life. You know who you are, this is my love letter to you. Thank you and I love you. 

love,

ali

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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/unity_at_the_initiative/

 

Lipi Paladugu: Lee Friedlander in Review

Photo: Lee Friedlander. New York City 1965

Text by Lipi Paladugu, Copyright 2021

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Lee Friedlander 

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 Lee Norman Friedlander was born on July 14th, 1934 in Aberdeen, WA. He gained his education at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and then moved to New York where he focused on taking pictures of the American social landscape. Friedlander is primarily a street photographer, and his images are recognized for being candid portraits of urban settings. Many of his photographs capture overlapping light and reflections in windows. Friedlander claims that his photographs aren’t premediated. Rather, he works to spontaneously capture whatever is ahead of him. His images draw out a tension between people and things in a street by making them all feel equal in the image. Friedlander’s images have been curated and published multiple times. Notably, he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s New Documents exhibition which was curated by John Szarkowski in 1967. His most famous published work includes The American Monument (1976), America by Car (2010) and Self Portrait (2000), which was a series of self-portraits he started in the 1960’s. The image we are looking at was also published in 1978 in Lee Friedlander, Photographs. 

The image, titled New York City was created in 1965. It is a black and white gelatin silver print. It measures 17cm by 25cm. While it isn’t a super small print, the dark shadow on the right, and the dark wall at the top half of the print, in some ways makes the image feel smaller. There is a lot going on in these darker areas, but we are still drawn toward the ground, which takes less that 50% of the entire composition. The size effectively accomplishes the goal of placing things within the right proportions. 

Gelatin silver prints were extremely popular during this time, especially for artistic projects such as this because of the high level of detail that it revealed. It consists of a layer of paper, a layer of baryta, and a layer of gelatin. The gelatin layer contains the light-sensitive silver compounds. After it is exposed to the negative and developed in a chemical bath, the image is relatively permanent and has a smooth surface. Silver gelatin prints were created and popularized as an alternative to platinum prints. The silver prints were first introduced in the late 1800s and experimented with by Alfred Stieglitz. However, it wasn’t until World War I and later, when platinum papers became harder to obtain, that silver prints became more popular. 

The detail in this image is extremely interesting to the viewer- from the stains on the ground and the speckled walls to the clean lines of the stars on the flag in the store window, there is a lot to see, but it isn’t overwhelming either. The use of black and white is also very impactful here. The shadow on the right becomes even more mysterious because it conceals something within it while still staying in frame. Also, the iconography of the flag is emphasized. Even without color, the flag is easily recognizable, and muting the bright red, blue of the flag into grayscale equalizes the power balance of all the subjects in the frame. 

Of the five categories that John Szarkowski discusses in his book The Photographers Eye, the frame(s) in this image are most significant in the image’s composition as it tells us what Friedlander wanted us to see in this scene. Frame asks the photographer what they should include and what they should reject. Szarkowski also says that the frame “isolates unexpected juxtapositions… The edge of the photograph dissects familiar forms and shows their unfamiliar fragment” (70). The most striking part of the frame is that the right side of the frame is almost entirely covered by a shadow. Out of the shadow, a single foot sticks out. While the foot is extremely well lit, the rest of the body is hidden in the shadow (an unfamiliar fragment) which draws intrigue to the foot. Within the image, the shadow on the right, the wall in the top half, and the left and bottom edges of the photo frame the well-lit sidewalk. The sidewalk becomes the focus of the image despite being the least “eventful” place in the image. The foot is the only object visible on the sidewalk in this framed area, which further highlights its presence. The framing allows us to deduce that the image is about the foot walking on the sidewalk- not about the store in the back or the owner of the feet. When paired with the title of the image “New York City” and Friedlander’s background, it becomes even more apparent that we are looking at the candid movements of people through the street. Another key framing in this image is the American flag in the store window. Despite not being able to see all sides of the window, there is a framing with the border of the image. As New York City is one of the representative cities on America, this position of the flag alongside the street is very poignant. The flag is above the street, but also not framed within the center of the image. This positioning makes us know we’re in American streets, but also that this is about the people more than it is about the place. In addition, in most representations of the American flag or interactions with it, the flag is hoisted high above everyone else, and people stand still, facing the flag, in some form of patriotic performance. In this image, there is movement parallel to the flag, not toward it. The framing of the image feels purposeful in highlighting this.

On initial glance, I was drawn to this image because the way the objects in the image were placed was not something I had really seen before. The American flag stood out easily but soon after my eyes dropped to the large sidewalk. It wasn’t until after I’d noticed these things that I saw the foot on the right. It could have to do with the way people read in English- from left to right. To me, the image feels like it’s divided into three sections which is a result of the framing. First we have the sidewalk, then the storefront, and lastly the foot and shadow on the right. Friedlander loved to juxtapose people and things in this manner to comment on urban scenes, and I feel the equal importance of all different parts of the image. While I am naturally intrigued by who the foot belongs too, I also feel like it doesn’t actually matter- it’s just representative of any dweller in the city. In addition, the (mostly) empty sidewalk shows its wear and tear, and how constantly it is used by people in the city. This is a striking contrast to the flag in the storefront that is shielded from the outside air and doesn’t appear to be used- it’s just meant to be looked at. 

In many ways, this image feels timeless to me. The icons in place are easily recognizable. Most images of the city are busy and overwhelming, but this image doesn’t feel like that to me. There is mystery and it calls for intrigue, and the viewer wants to see more.

Works Cited

“Lee Friedlander.” Artnet, www.artnet.com/artists/lee-friedlander/. 

“Lee Friedlander.” Fraenkel Gallery, 29 Apr. 2021, fraenkelgallery.com/artists/lee-friedlander. 

Szarkowski, John. The Photographer’s Eye. Museum of Modern Art, 2007. 

Wagner, Sarah S. Gelatin Silver Prints, National Gallery of Art, www.nga.gov/research/online-editions/alfred-stieglitz-key-set/practices-and-processes/gelatin-silver-prints.html. 

About The Author: Lipi Paladugu is a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Class of 2021. Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science. To access additional articles by Lipi Paladugu, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/lipi-paladugu-light-reflected/