Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2021
In Praise of Ecdysiasts
Because I spent more than thirty-five years photographing nudes, I appreciate people comfortable in their skin. Ecdysiasts are people, usually female but also male, who make their living taking off their clothing to music, strippers in common parlance, but also modern dancers.
I found my best photography models from among their ranks. It’s not that I specifically sought out strippers, that’s just how it turned out. In the pre-Internet days I found my models in two ways, advertisements in college newspapers, and word of mouth. I don’t remember how many times I’d have a model in my studio for a shoot, and after the photo session she’d say, “I have this friend…” I always told her to invite the friend in with her next time for a test. In several cases these friends turned out to be better models than the original woman. This was particularly the case with dancers, and dance students who tended to have other dancers/dance students for friends.
The other best models I found were naturists, commonly called nudists. There was a naturist camp near Richmond, Virginia, called ‘Whitetail Park’ where I must say all the tails I saw were nicely tanned, and I found a number of very good models. It may still be there, but I’ve been unable to travel since 2003. I also found a large nudist colony in Cologne, Germany, beside the Rhine River right across from the Koln Messe, the giant exhibition halls where international trade shows used to be held, and found models there when I was in Germany.
After the rise of the Internet, I found most models through my own website (bobshell.com) and sites like OneModelPlace and ModelMayhem.
The other way I found models was referrals from other photographers. My late friend Johnny Meeks of Blowing Rock, North Carolina, referred a number of very good models to me. Johnny was the original drummer for the Allman Brothers, whom he met while in art school in Sarasota, but turned from music to photography.
Now, before anyone calls me a sexist for concentrating on photographing women, I’ll say that I also photographed a few men, but I find the more rounded contours of the female body more attractive photographically.
I always paid my models well, even when I was first starting out and had little money myself. I also kept scrupulous records, keeping signed model releases in a file of everyone who ever modeled for me. After my arrest in 2003, the police had access to those releases, which have name, address, and Social Security number, and tried for more than four years to find anyone who’d ever modeled for me with anything negative to say about me. My models never felt exploited, and a number are friends today.
I’ve photographed nudes in Virginia, Illinois, Louisiana, California, Nevada, Maine, Florida, etc., and internationally in England, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Japan. In every case I honored whatever the local laws were, but the USA is the most restrictive, allowing me to only photograph women eighteen and older.
My career as a photographer was cut short by my conviction in 2007, based on testimony the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia says was, “Just wrong!” Once I’m out of here and free again, I plan to renew my career. I’m full of repressed ideas for photos.
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://tonyward.com/cosmic_dance/
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.