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.

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