Category Archives: Men

Bob Shell: The 60’s

Bob Dylan circa 1960’s. Photo: Charles Gatewood, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

.

The 60’s

.

In the summer of 1966 I moved to Washington, DC, to take a job I’d been offered at the Smithsonian Institution as a biological illustrator. I’d been making detailed paintings and pen and ink drawings of insects, birds, and animals since grade school. I was getting published regularly in wildlife magazines around the country, starting while I was still in high school.

In college at Virginia Tech I had a job making drawings of insects for scientific papers written by one of the entomologists there, and was becoming well known in the small population of professional biological illustrators, while studying biology.

I’d become sort of a pen pal with Andre Pizzini, one of the Smithsonian artists, who became my mentor, and helped me get the job there.

So that’s when and why I moved to DC. This was in the American social catharsis that was 1960s, when the civil rights movement was going full bore, the protests against the Vietnam war were accelerating, music was transitioning from Elvis to The Beatles to acid rock, and all of American society was in foment.

The despised Lyndon B. Johnson was president, followed by the even more hated Richard Nixon.

We were asking ourselves why, in idealistic America, we had a two tiered society, with blacks as second-class citizens. “White Only” signs were on restrooms, restaurants, and in other places. We were drafting our young men and shipping them off to southeast Asia to be slaughtered. Country Joe was singing the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” — “And you can be the first ones on your block to have your boy come home in a box.”. Many of my high school friends were drafted and some did come home in boxes. All for a stupid war the US should never have gotten itself mired up in.

I got caught up in the protest fever. I joined protests, picketed the White House, was teargassed on the lawn of the Pentagon, holding and calming a hysterical friend. Saw soldiers lined up in front of that imposing building to guard it from us, unarmed kids. Saw those same soldiers. break down in tears when girls put flowers in the barrels of their rifles. They were no older than us, didn’t want to be there, caught up in an idiotic confrontation.

The Smithsonian Institution was created by a gift to the United States from James Smithson, an Englishman who never set foot in America. He left us a fortune in his will to create, “in Washington,DC, an institution for the increase and dissemination of knowledge among men.”

Unfortunately, the Smithsonian depends on Congress for funding, Smithson’s money having run out long ago. Projects I was working on often lost their funding, and I bounced from job to job, working for a while at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, just outside DC, drawing mosquitoes for the Southeast Asia Mosquito Research Project, that I learned was a CIA front when the Washington Post outed it. So I actually worked for the CIA for a while, although I was never a “spook.”

Please remember that America in the 1960s was like an alien planet compared to today. Many years of inflation hadn’t yet made the dollar practically worthless like it is today. Gasoline was less than 25 cents a gallon, an expensive car was under four thousand dollars and you could get a hamburger for fifteen cents and a bottle of Coke for a dime. I paid fifty bucks for my first serious camera, a used Nikon F with lens and a separate handheld light meter. That was a significant investment for me, since the museum projects paid me sixty bucks a week, which also happened to be the monthly rent on my big, two-bedroom apartment in central DC.

The sex, drugs, and rock and roll movement was in full flower, and I leaped in with both feet, going through a succession of live-in girlfriends, popping psychedelics, which were still legal, and going to rock concerts.

Some people I knew had bought an old movie theater, the Ambassador Theater near Georgetown, and tore out the seats, leaving a bare concrete floor. They brought in west coast bands like Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and many more, plus local bands like The Andorene, and had an elaborate light show projected behind the bands on the old movie screen. Since I knew the people, I never paid admission, and was there just about every weekend.

For live music, there was also the Merryweather Post Pavilion just outside DC, founded by the Post cereal fortune heirs, which was an outdoor theater, with seating and overflow onto a big lawn. I listened to Ravi Shankar there, and folk groups like Peter, Paul and Mary.

I was making Beardsley-esque pen and ink drawings of nudes for the Washington Free Press, an underground newspaper of the day, doing art on commission for anyone who’d pay me, and living well, but not extravagantly. When I was between grants I’d head up to New York City and hang out with people I knew, taking in the East Village scene, going to concerts by groups like The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, The Mothers of Invention, The Fugs, Pearls Before Swine, Bob Dylan and many others. I was in my twenties and enjoying life to its fullest.

In 1968, for reasons I no longer remember, I moved to Richmond, Virginia, and lived in “the fan,” the area near Virginia Commonwealth University, where my cousin, the same age as me, was living. We’d grown up more like brothers than cousins, and many who knew us in school thought we were brothers. I lived with him and his wife until I found an apartment of my own and was happy in Richmond until early summer of 1969, when the apartment I shared with four others was raided by the Richmond police. One man, who was visiting from DC had one marijuana “joint” in his pocket, and they arrested all six of us for possession! Marijuana possession was a felony back then, and we could have been given up to thirty years, but we all got three years each, suspended. That meant being on probation for five years. That was my first brush with the American “justice system.”

.

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/parole-denied/

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.

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, commentary, Documentary, Film, Friends of TWS, History, lifestyle, Music, Politics, Popular Culture, Portraiture

Bob Shell: Parole Denied

The Virginia Parole Board

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

.

Parole Denied

.

My legal efforts: Unfortunately, the Virginia Supreme Court declared a state of judicial emergency in March, shutting down all state courts except for emergency hearings and some clerical functions. I have several ongoing court actions, but all are on hold until the courts reopen, and there’s no way to know when that will be. I’d probably have been released by now if not for this damned pandemic. It’s been very frustrating to just sit in my cell spinning my wheels while time passes me by!
I do expect full exoneration once courts are back in action and hear my cases. I’m also 100% confident that ownership of my forest will be returned to me then, and the thieving bastards who got their filthy reeking hands on it illegally will be punished. They had better not have harmed so much as a single one of my precious trees! I WILL be free again, and I WILL build my home and studio there.

Since the start of the virus pandemic, we’ve been on modified lockdown. That means our library, law library, and all classes are closed, and we’re kept in our cells twenty or more hours a day, even eating all our meals in our cells. It’s certainly claustrophobic. Thankfully, I have a very good cellmate. I was tested for COVID-19 recently, and came up negative. Here at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, we’ve had two staff with it and no inmates with the virus. The only way we can get it is if staff bring it in from outside.

Once again this year, I was denied parole, my eighth turndown. The Virginia Parole Board says they consider me a “threat to the community.” The absurdity of that statement is obvious to anyone who knows me. I’ve never been a threat to anyone! I ran my photo business from the 1960s and in Radford, VA from 1980 until I was locked up in 2007, photographing literally hundreds of models. The prosecution sought to portray me as a serial molester of my models, yet in the four years between my arrest and trial, in spite of all their efforts, they could not find a single former model with anything bad to say against me. I kept scrupulous records from the 1960s on every model I photographed, and the police had access to those records.

As one prominent lawyer commented, surely if I’d abused women who modeled for me, some of them would have come forward. My case got international coverage in the photo press and on the internet, but no such person appeared. Why? Because no such person existed. Yet, every time I come up for parole, the prosecution repeats its lies to the Parole Board. Worse, while they’ve denied me, they’ve recently granted parole to murderers with very long sentences! Where are their brains? Their stated purpose is to release people back into society who can be productive citizens, giving them a second chance. Don’t I deserve such a chance?

Virginia recently passed a hair discrimination law. I don’t know how many times in the 1960s and 70s I was told, “We’ll give you the job if you cut your hair.” Now that’s illegal in Virginia. From the 1960s on, except when desperate enough for a job to cut it, I always wore my hair very long in a ponytail. Now that the Department of Corrections can no longer make us cut our hair, I’m working my way back to my old look. It feels great to be me again!

For anyone who wants to keep up with the dirty deeds of America’s prison-industrial complex, I recommended Prison Legal News (www.prisonlegalnews.org) and Criminal Legal News (www.criminallegalnews.org) magazines, published by the Human Rights Defense Center.

Until next time, be well my friends!
.

Portrait of Bob Shell, May of 2020. Pocohantas State Prison

.

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/bob-shell-jargon-overload/

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.

Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, News, Politics, Popular Culture

Bob Shell: Civil War-Part Two

Civil War

.

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

.

Civil War-Part Two

.

As I write in September of the end of the second decade of the Twenty-first Century, there is much talk in the media of a second civil war. How this will turn out is anybody’s guess right now, but if the unrest descends into war, it will not be a second civil war, because there is yet to be a first civil war on American soil. Yes, you heard me right, the war in the 1860s was NOT a civil war. A civil war is, by definition, a war between opposing factions within one country.

”The War Between the States’, or as it is often called here in the South, ‘The War of Northern Aggression,’ or, as I prefer, ‘Lincoln’s War,’ was fought between two sovereign countries, the United States of America (USA) and the Confederate States of America (CSA). The CSA was recognized, and had treaties of alliance with numerous other countries, England and Russia in particular, and had a properly ratified peace treaty with the USA.

Before the USA was formed, each state was essentially a separate country, like the countries that make up the European Union (EU), sometimes called the ‘United States of Europe,’ today. It is a well-established historical fact that when Virginia joined the USA, she reserved the right to leave the Union at any time.

If you’ve paid attention to international news for the past few years, you know about BREXIT, the decision by Britain to leave the EU. Britain, like Virginia, reserved the right to leave the EU when joining.

You don’t see Brussels sending an armed invasion force across the Channel to England to force them to come back into the European Union, do you? But that’s exactly what Lincoln did when he sent troops across the Potomac to invade Virginia. It was an illegal invasion of another country, a country with which the USA had signed a peace treaty. Bet you didn’t learn those uncomfortable truths in your history classes, did you? I did, at Virginia Tech in the 1960s.

Napoleon called history “a pack of lies agreed upon by the historians,” and that’s what history as taught in American schools today is. It is as factual as the history that used to be taught in the old Soviet Union, or in China today. I’ve seen the history books used today and sat down with young family members to talk about history. The pure PC nonsense our children are being taught today is both inaccurate and dangerous. If I had children, I would not subject them to this so-called education. The downfall of the USA may well be caused from within while our enemies laugh at our ignorance. Knowledge is power, but only when it is real knowledge. Belief in myth is weakness.

As George Santayana is so often quoted, “Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.” Our educational institutions today are engaged in a wholesale revision of history having damned little to do with truth.

My several times great grandfather, Hugh McCracken, enlisted in the 33rd Virginia Infantry at the start of Lincoln’s War. He fought bloody battles, saw horrible sights, and came home to his farm to raise a family. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. My family has his war diary, and I’ve read it. There’s a word that appears nowhere in that bloodstained diary: slavery. Hugh was not fighting to preserve slavery, he was fighting to protect his homeland from foreign invaders.

My ancestors were Appalachian farmers, mostly so-called Scotch-Irish, who’d come to America to find new lives without a King’s yoke around their necks. They didn’t own slaves, couldn’t afford them if they’d wanted them. Ours was not the South of massive plantations, it was the South of small subsistence farms.

There is such a thing as Southern Heritage, and it pains me deeply to see it systematically destroyed by ignorance.

When I lived in Richmond in the late 1960s, I used to walk around Monument Avenue to appreciate the heroic statues and monuments. I was particularly impressed with the Robert E. Lee monument and statue. Lee, my namesake and distant cousin, was my childhood hero, a genuine gentleman.

After the war a big publisher offered Lee a lot of money for his memoirs. Mark Twain had been hired to co-author them. Lee turned down this lucrative offer because he said it would not be proper to make money off the blood of his men.

The publisher then took the offer to Grant, who took the money. That tells us the measure of the two men.

It is well-known that Lee welcomed a Black man to his church in Lexington, and knelt to pray with him before the scandalized congregation.

It is wrong to try to judge men of the past by the standards of today. Almost none would measure up.

.

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/civil-war/

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.

Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, commentary, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, History, Politics, Popular Culture

Dominic Mercier: Fleeing Opression, Finding Creative Freedom

Milt Ward. Circa 1960’s

 

Text by Dominic Mercier, Copyright 2020

.

Fleeing Oppression, Finding Creative Freedom

.

When Milt Ward arrived in Philadelphia in the late 1930s, he was fleeing the oppressive and segregated south. But what he found in his new home was a welcoming, creative community that would bolster his artistic skills and shape his distinguished career as a graphic artist.

Born and raised in Savannah, Ward, as a teenager, was captivated by the hand-lettered signage and point-of-purchase displays that local merchants used in their shops. He set himself to hours and hours of practice in pursuit of perfecting the art of hand lettering, which would later become the hallmark of his career, and found a way to support himself and his family by selling his services to local business owners.

When he arrived in Philadelphia in search of freedom and opportunities with his mother, Eva, and younger brother, Bennie, Ward sought to further his artistic training by enrolling in drawing classes at the Graphic Sketch Club, now better known as Fleisher. It was in the club’s studios, his son, Tony, says, that he connected with members of Philadelphia’s Jewish community and, quite possibly, our founder, Samuel S. Fleisher. Ward’s relationship with members of that community, built on a shared understanding of the perils of persecution and oppression, opened the door to his fruitful career.

.

Milt Ward at work. Philadelphia 1950’s.

.

“A lot of Jewish merchants at the time were looking out for Black folks. Throughout his entire career he worked almost exclusively for Jewish-owned businesses,” Tony Ward says. “There’s no question that they looked out for my dad. But it wasn’t just because he was African American. He had real talent and they weren’t prejudiced.”

For much of his career, Ward worked for the Roxborough-based Diversified Marketing Group, led by Stanley Ginsberg, with whom Ward shared both a collegial and professional relationship for much of his life. He also was one of the first Black members of the Philadelphia Art Directors Club, a venue in which he formed a lasting friendships with other like-minded artists. From his home office, Ward churned out work for freelance clients, chief among them the Mel Richman Advertising Group, and, after retiring at the age of 65, a significant number of paintings. His talent and dedication allowed him to establish himself firmly in the middle class, Tony says, a rarity for a Black artist at the time.

.

“I knew being an artist would be an interesting career, because my dad worked days shifts and then at night on his freelance projects. That’s a sign that someone loves what they’re doing.” – Tony Ward

.

While Tony says his father never really spoke of his youth, he did share with him his love of the arts. Tony is a widely-recognized photographer and visiting professor of fine arts at Haverford College and his work, which often explores the intersection of fashion and erotic photography, has been exhibited widely in Philadelphia and in galleries across the world. As a young man, Tony recalls spending hours sitting with his father, learning how to draw and letter. When she was younger, Tony enrolled his own daughter, Chanel, in Fleisher’s Saturday Young Artists Program. Chanel is now an educator and guides Fleisher’s programs as a member of the Programs Impact Committee.

“When I got to college, I realized I wasn’t going to be a hand-lettering specialist like him, I didn’t have the eye. But I pivoted to photography, which was really the right move for me,” Tony says. “I knew being an artist would be an interesting career, because my dad worked days shifts and then at night on his freelance projects. That’s a sign that someone loves what they’re doing.”

AV. From the Alphabet Series. Milt Ward. Copyright 1989

 

Today, Tony keeps his father’s legacy alive online. His website contains a gallery of paintings Ward produced between 1989 and 1993. Called the Alphabet Series, the bold paintings combine Ward’s two loves: painting and bold lettering. Tony’s home houses much of his father’s artwork, as well as a number of his brushes and the drawing table where his father honed his craft.

.

About The Author: Dominic Mercier is the Communications Director at the Fleisher Art Memorial. To access the Fleisher web site, click here: https://fleisher.org

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, Current Events, Documentary, Environment, Friends of TWS, History, lifestyle, Painting, Popular Culture, Portraiture

Leif Skoogfors: Interview

 

.

LEIF SKOOGFORS INTERVIEW:

.

TW: When did you first realize your vocation would be to become a photojournalist? Who or what influences in your life early on led you down this path?

LS:  The weekly arrival of LIFE magazine, in those days a respected and worldly periodical showed me the world. I saved up to buy a 1958 book on LIFE’s photo staff and was fascinated by the adventures the men and women who worked for LIFE were.

Politics and world events were part of my blood; my father, a Swedish engineer, had worked for a time in Germany. He was in Prussia as Hitler tried his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. After he returned to Sweden, he was consumed by news about the Finish-Soviet Winter War of 1939, and my father, who had worked in the US, decided his family was best raised there. Three months after the German invasion of Poland, he packed us up, and we emigrated to the US, so current events were subject to daily analysis.

My interest in world events and politics was consuming, and photojournalism combined all of this with art. It was the ultimate answer for me.

TW: What impact did studying with Alex Brodovitch have on your approach to photography and photojournalism in particular?

LS: I’m not sure I fully understood Brodovitch at first. He said to the twenty-plus students who met in Richard Avedon’s studio, he would only talk about photographs that were new to him; or were so terrible as to raise his anger. He ignored the mediocre. And most of my work was mediocre. It led to a healthy self-criticism. There is a push to go beyond, even in the most ordinary projects. And that is an invaluable lesson!

TW: As I reviewed the breadth of your work for this interview, it became readily apparent that the themes you addressed in your visual reporting from 40 years ago are very relevant to the types of demonstrations, marches and protests we see currently on the American streets and throughout the world. What are your thoughts about the Trump administration and the propaganda the white house espouses these days?


LS:
I photographed Donal Trump once, at first as other journalists have written about, he pretended to be his own press agent under another name. I arrived at his Atlantic City casino and asked for the press agent by name, John Miller. A tall blond haired man came down the stairs and I said,”Hi John, good to meet you”. The man scowled and said, “I’m Donald Trump.” We didn’t get along well since I didn’t really know who Donald Trump was. An ego jolt?

More eloquent folks have analyzed The Trump White House. It is clear it sucks. And it is incredibly sad that the current demonstrations must go on to force more change. I’m sorry that my current situation won’t allow me to be out there still.

TW: What was the most exciting assignment you worked on where you believe your photographs may have influenced public opinion for the good of mankind?

LS: I’m not sure my photographs influenced people; I know I tried in my book, “The Most Natural Thing in the World,” done a long time ago. I tried to show the situation there, and the poor folks caught in the middle of a bitter war. Recently a journalist said that the essay in the book, text by friends John and Lenore Cooney, was the most accurate depiction” of “The Troubles” he’d ever seen.

 Just two years ago, I had an appointment with a doctor who had emigrated from Bosnia. When I told her of my time there, she was effusive in thanking me. She said that it was the journalists who covered that terrible war, influencing the US and NATO to come in and enforce a Peace. It made me realize how important the work we do is, helping end a war with the highest mass killings of civilians in Europe since WW2 .

TW:  You have spent a significant amount of your time working with the DART Society and the effects of war and its aftermath. How has seeing so much death and destruction impacted your life and well being?

LS: One of the most severe problems facing any journalist covering current events; from a war zone or a local car crash is Post Traumatic Stress. Estimates range from 15 to 30 percent of photographers who face horrific situations will have to deal with these issues. If not treated, the photographer may experience a lifetime of problems.

I suffered from a severe attack years after covering the irregular war, known as “The Troubles,” in Northern Ireland. Fortunately, I’d also attended a workshop on Post Traumatic Stress given by the Dart Center and found treatment.

I’ve volunteered with this and other groups to raise funds for groups helping journalists both to understand PTSD or receive counseling.

TW: What advice can you offer the young photojournalist who has the compassion to document tragedy?

LS: I would advise any young photojournalist always to be prepared to offer compassion or help when covering traumatic events. Often, just letting a subject you know the pain they may be suffering will help. And never be afraid to ask for help yourself.

TW: If you were to start your career over again, what would you do differently if anything?

LS: If I was starting my career over, what fun would that be! I’d wish for the opportunity for an excellent liberal arts education and add another language and some decent art courses. Drawing is a fast way to learn about two-dimensional work, and that’s what a photograph is all about.

TW:  Now that you are retired from the grind of day to day photojournalism, what is a typical day like for you since you had the recent health challenge?

LS: Unfortunately, I’ve suffered some health challenges, not to mention the infuriating limitations of advancing age. But I try to spend as much time going over my archive in anticipation of placing it with the University of Texas. I love finding a beautiful photo I’d overlooked in the past, something that surprises me. I also realize that my work covers history and I’m proud to have worked during the “golden age of journalism.”

TW:  Who is your favorite photographer and why?

LS: Too many, I fear. Among them, Cartier-Bresson for his “Decisive Moment,” Gene Smith for his passion, and Jacques Henri Lartigue for his sense of humor. Ed van der Elsken also influenced me, perhaps with the romanticism of his book “Love on the Left Bank.” I still have the first edition of that work from 1954.

TW:  How would you like to be remembered?

As one of the hardest working photojournalists!

.

Portrait of Leif Skoogfors with Special Warfare unit.

.

About The Photographer: Leif Skoogfors (born 1940 in Wilmington, Delaware) is a documentary photographer and educator. He was born in Wilmington, Delaware, one month after his family, including brothers Olaf and Eric, fled Sweden as World War II broke out. His family crossed the North Atlantic in December 1939 on a neutral Norwegian ship.

.

Editor’s Note: Licensing of photographs available through Getty Images. Leif Skoogfors, Copyright 2020.

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, Cameras, Covers, Documentary, Environment, Film, Friends of TWS, History, interview, News, Photography, Politics, Popular Culture, Travel