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Bob Shell: Wherefore Blog?

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Photo: Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #34

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Letters  by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Wherefore Blog?

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A friend who looked at this blog summarized it as “look how smart I am!”

That came as something of a shock. Sure, I’m as vain as any other man, but I hadn’t thought I might be putting people off; showing off my brainpower, as it were. That really wasn’t my intention in making these posts, but I’ll admit that I’ve been writing only about things I think I know a lot about. Perhaps I should point out that there are a great many things that I know little or nothing about. I guess most people have a limited range of things that interest them. For example, organized sports. I know zilch about most of them. I don’t dislike most sports, I’m just totally indifferent to them. I do dislike boxing and other fight/blood sports. (I once sat next to Muhammad Ali on a flight from Las Vegas to NY, and the poor man was shaking so hard it shook the whole row of seats.) I’ve never watched a Superbowl in my life, and if I ever did it would be for the commercials. Our pod TV here is tuned to ESPN most of the time and I have no idea what those commentators are talking about, nor any interest in learning. When Shutterbug’s parent company started a magazine in the early 90s called Soccer, I learned just enough about the sport to write about photographing the action, and would have learned more if the magazine had lasted, but it didn’t. I think it was ahead of its time, since interest in soccer wasn’t well developed in the US.

Something else I know almost nothing about is identifying trees and wild plants. Oh, I know an evergreen from a deciduous, and can tell an oak from a maple, but which type of oak or maple, I haven’t a clue, and I know how to identify poison ivy from bad experience, but most wild plants are just green leafy things to me. Birds I know reasonably well, but can’t identify specific warblers or sparrows. It just never seemed that important to me. A committed birdwatcher would be horrified. When I was in school at Virginia Tech I made the mistake of signing up for a medieval European history class. Boring, boring, boring! We were supposed to memorize long genealogies of European ruling families. I learned then that it is absolutely impossible for me to memorize anything that I don’t find interesting. I dropped that class. To me it was like those long biblical begat lists. I just don’t care who begat who. I’m interested in ancient history, though. Much of history, therefore, is a blank to me. I only know some “Civil War” history because my ancestral grandfather, Hugh McCracken, fought in it as an infantryman, and survived, or I wouldn’t be here. I know trends and roughly what happened before and after such-and-such in the rest of history, and that’s good enough for me.

When I decided to devote my life to photography in the late 60s, I took the time to learn as much as I could about it. Photography, as it existed when I was a young man was a combination of physics and chemistry. So I learned the basic physics of cameras/lenses and the basic chemistry of film and darkroom processes. I knew people who bought the constituent chemicals and made their own developers and other darkroom chemicals from scratch, but it always seemed fine to me to just buy the premixed stuff made by Kodak, Ilford, Agfa, or whoever. When I wanted to experiment with tintypes, I bought the kit from Photographer’s Formulary. The only processes I ever did from scratch were gum bichromate and the Rawlins oil process, because I couldn’t find any ready made kits, and both are relatively easy processes, requiring only one uncommon chemical (Potassium dichromate), plus gum arabic from an art supply store or gelatin from a grocery store. Mostly I played with those old processes just to prove to myself that I could.

Today,photography is transitioning from a combination of physics and chemistry to a combination of physics and electronics. I’m keeping up as much as possible by reading about changes in technology.

Right now the trend seems to be to get rid of the reflex mirror in cameras. We just don’t need a flipping mirror anymore. Getting rid of the mirror eliminates the main source of vibration in the camera. That mirror at a 45 degree angle reflecting the image from the lens up onto a viewing screen was inherited from the camera obscura, which dates back to the renaissance and revolutionized perspective. But with electronic viewfinders linked directly to the image sensor, the mirror isn’t needed. Recently Canon, Nikon, Fuji, and perhaps others I haven’t heard of yet have introduced new mirrorless SLR cameras, and whole new ranges of lenses for them. Getting rid of the mirror and its associated mechanics allows designers more freedom in lens design, since they can then get the rear lens element much closer to the image sensor. We should see a range of new lenses that are faster and sharper, like Fuji’s new f/1 lens, and Canon’s 50mm f/1.2 and 35mm f/1.8 macro. Of course these new mirrorless cameras had to have new lens mounts, but in most cases you can use your existing lenses via an adapter, so you needn’t splurge on a whole new system at once.

But I’m wandering off topic, as I so often do. I’ve been told that I’m a natural teacher, and that’s one of the purposes I envisioned for this blog. I love to share what I’ve learned in my years in photography. After all, when you do something for fifty years you’re bound to learn a few tricks!

At times it is frustrating. Here I am, after devoting my life to photography, not able to even touch a camera. I haven’t had a camera in my hands for more than eleven years. The last time was in court on the last day of my trial, when I demonstrated for the jury how easy it was to accidentally change the times on images in the Canon EOS 10D camera. I think the whole demonstration sailed right over their heads. People who are completely computer illiterate should not sit on juries in cases that involve technical computer testimony!

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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. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-fighting-monsters/

 

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Now Available in Store: Fashion Fetish 25 Years!

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Fashion Fetish 25 Years

 

 

Studio News:

Fashion Fetish 25 Years.  Introduction by A.H. Scott: Now taking orders in limited edition of 500 copies. Click here to enter Storehttp://tonywarderotica.com/store/

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Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2018

 

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Bob Shell: Family of Photographers

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Photo: Bob Shell, Copyright 2018

 

 

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #29

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Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018

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FAMILY OF PHOTOGRAPHERS

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Maybe photography is in the genes. My father was an avid photographer, and my sister and I both got the bug. One of my great uncles, Hank Jewell, was pretty famous as a photographer in southwest Virginia in the late 1800s and early 20th century. One of his cameras is on display in the historical museum in Christiansburg, Virginia. He took the famous photograph of Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveler. The historical society has the “outtakes” from this session, all on glass plates about 4 x 5 inches. Unfortunately, when Hank died his family had no appreciation of the value of his work and hauled all his negatives to the dump. By the time historians heard, it was too late, since it had rained several times. Sad and stupid! Reminds me of how C. S. Lewis’s brother took all of C. S.’s papers out back of the house after his death and built a bonfire of them. Luckily, some people got there and put out the fire before all was consumed. Some Lewis stories now exist only in fragmentary form because of this act of amazing stupidity.

Paper, after all, is a fugitive medium for us to store our memories upon. For many years archeologists believed that the Phoenicians had no written language. Then it was discovered that they did, only they wrote on paper. Their climate didn’t preserve paper, unlike the arid climate in Egypt. No one knows what they wrote, but we’ve lost it all to a damp climate.

Personally, I’m one more of those who believe there was a highly advanced civilization on earth before the last ice age, which obliterated almost all traces. I think this is the real explanation for most of those mysteries discussed on TV shows like the mostly absurd “Ancient Aliens.” Ockham’s Razor says that the simplest explanation is usually the right one.

Anyway, as usual I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was talking about Uncle Hank’s photography. I never knew him, but my father knew him well. As did Doug Lester, one of the photographers who influenced me as I was learning. Doug and his wife Ruth owned Lester’s Foto Shop on Main Street in Christiansburg for many years. Doug knew more about photography than any two other photographers I knew then. I used to hang around the shop and talk photography with him between customers. He was a diehard Rolleiflex partisan; used them for his photography and sold them in his shop. He influenced me to trade in my Bronica S2a outfit for a Rolleiflex SL66, probably the finest camera I ever owned in terms of build quality. And the Zeiss lenses for the system were simply awesome. The major drawback of this camera (besides high price) was the big focal plane shutter, which could only synchronize with electronic flash at 1/30 second or slower. In the studio that was no problem, but it got in the way of outdoor fill flash. Rollei offered three lenses, 50, 80, and 150 with built-in leaf shutters with synchronized shutter speeds up to 1/500 second to get around this, but they were very expensive. Eventually I tracked down a used 150 that I could afford and used it for several years. But, by then Rollei had abandoned the SL66 system in favor of the SLX and its successors, offering the same great lenses in updated multicoated versions with electronic leaf shutters that synchronized with flash at all shutter speeds. I started with an SL6006 that I bought broken and rebuilt, and later moved to the SL6008i system. In addition to the Zeiss lenses, Rollei offered some Schneider-Kreutznach lenses, like the 80mm f/2 that I loved. Unfortunately, Rollei never caught up to the digital revolution and I think they’re gone now. I sold my Rollei equipment around 2005, when it still had substantial value, to raise money to put into lawyers’ pockets. I guess I’m lucky in a way since I sold my film cameras when they still had value, even if I was forced to sell to pay legal bills. By 2004 I was essentially a digital photographer, using Canon EOS 10D and Nikon D100 cameras. Why both incompatible systems? Simply that Canon and Nikon both sent me cameras and lenses for editorial evaluation, and I liked both of them. While I was with Shutterbug I never had to buy cameras. After Shutterbug terminated my contract “due to the accusations” I broke down and bought an EOS 10D. I still have it, although it’s in storage. Very fine camera; I shot all of the photos for several books with it. For most editorial work you simply don’t need massive megapixels. The 10D is a six megapixel camera, and that’s plenty for any magazine or book page (most of the photos for my Erotic Bondage book were made with the EOS 10D). For most of my work, today’s cameras with 24 or more megapixels would simply be memory hogs.

When I first got really serious about making a living from writing about photography, my old friend Lief Erickson said, “Well, buddy boy, you must realise that in this business you can either have fame OR fortune.”. Despite his nom de guerre, Lief was 100% English, which is why I wrote realise and not realize, and I’d first met him in the 70s when he was writing for a great old magazine called Camera 35. I’d written him a letter about one of his articles, and he had responded with a long and philosophical letter. We began a correspondence that lasted several years until I met him in NYC at one of the Photo + Expo trade shows at the Javits Center. We talked there and I invited him to start writing for me at Shutterbug. We developed a great working relationship. I’d call him with a ghost of an idea and he’d take it and run with it and invariably deliver a fine, polished article. Probably never what I would have done with that same ghost of an idea, but always excellent. I hardly ever had to edit his work, and when I did it was always for length, to make the article fit the available space. Writing for magazines is very different from writing. for books. because books usually don’t have strict space limits. When I told one of my writers that I needed 2,000 words, I expected exactly 2,000 words. When I had to shorten an article from Lief, or anyone else, it was because a last-minute ad sale had eaten into the allotted editorial space. That happens often in the magazine business.

Lief actually died on assignment for me. He had a heart attack on the New Jersey Turnpike on the way to a press conference I’d asked him to attend in my stead because I couldn’t come up to NYC right then. He’d had heart trouble for years, but I never thought I’d lose him like that. Lief was a mystic/philosopher as well as photographer, and I loved talking to him more than almost anyone else I’ve met in the business often about things having nothing to do with photography.

Anyway, fame or fortune? I ended up with fame, within the photo industry at least. I sure didn’t wind up with fortune. But it was nice within the insular photo industry to be well known. Sometimes I wanted to be anonymous at trade shows, so I’d order two name badges, one in my name and one in the name Fritz Klages. People would walk up, look at my face. then see the name badge and do a double take. “Bob Shell? For some reason people keep telling me we look alike!”

One time at Photo + I was walking around on the trade show floor when several young men approached me. One had a copy of my Mamiya book and asked me to autograph it for him. I did, and handed it back to him. He looked at what I’d written and said, “Wow, man, thanks! Wow, you’re famous, man! Wow!”. I guess my head swelled several sizes, and I probably couldn’t have gotten my hat on just then.

I considered the photo trade shows great fun, particularly the mother of all trade shows, photokina. (Yes, it’s spelled with a lower case “p.”. I don’t know why, but the people who run it insist that it be spelled that way.). This show is enormous, filling multiple buildings of the big Messe complex in Cologne, Germany. Everyone who is anyone in the world of photography comes. I always took advantage of the opportunity to meet people, and become friends with many. And there are some really fine people in the business; for example Lino Manfrotto, whose name you’ve probably seen on tripods and other photo accessories. Lino was a commercial photographer in Italy and was unhappy with the quality of the available light stands, so he designed and built his own

Other photographers saw them in his studio and wanted their own, so Lino started making and selling them. In a few years this business had grown far beyond his photography business, and he’d branched out into tripods and a line of studio accessories you will find today in most studios worldwide. Lino died not long ago, but his son Abramo keeps the family business going. Today the company also makes a line of display fixtures used by department stores. I will always cherish my memories of visiting Lino’s factory complex with him as tour guide and a trip to Venice with Abramo.

At photokina you also run into the real “characters” of the business. One of them is Ken (Sir Kenneth) Corfield, originator of the Periflex, a camera styled somewhat like an older, pre-M series Leica, but unique in that you focused through a small periscope atop the camera, which was retracted before taking the picture. Strange, but it worked. The Periflex was also almost unique in being manufactured in Ireland. Can you name the other camera made in Ireland, made by Timex?

Well, Ken Cornfield also fathered the Corfield 66, an inexpensive medium format SLR. Last time I saw Ken, he was laughing at the silly prices collectors were paying for those. Not that it was a bad camera, just an inexpensive one originally.

The photo magazine business today sure isn’t what it was. Most of the great old magazines are long gone; Modern Photography, PhotoGRAPHIC, Camera, Studio Photography, Camera 35, and many more whose names I’ve forgotten. And I just learned today that Shutterbug has been sold yet again, and the new owners let three of our best people go and have cut back to six issues a year! And to think we once published every two weeks! But these are signs of the times, I guess. As George Harrison sang, All Things Must Pass…

Maybe printed magazines have seen their day, and will go their way into history. But for me the day the last printed magazine rolls off the presses will be a sad day, indeed.

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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. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-optics-photography/

 

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Fashion Fetish 25 Years: Now Available

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FASHION FETISH 25 YEARS: ORDER NOW!

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Now taking orders for this special limited edition print run of 500 copies on superior quality, Proline Pearl Photo 140# paper stock.  Standard portrait size, image wrap cover 8 x 10 in, 21 x 26 cm. 240 pages. Each copy sold is printed to order, signed and numbered until the edition is sold out. U.S. customers please allow 14 days for printing and delivery. International customers please allow 30 days for printing and delivery. Click here to enter check out: http://tonyward.com/shopping-cart/books-bonus-gift/#gallery/537ab8257ae5dd811ebdcab8cff3523a/102/cart

I would like to thank all of the incredible models, editors, stylists, magazines and companies that made this book possible! 

In order of appearance:

Mikala Mikrut, Alice Chaillou, A.H. Scott, Titziana, Michelle Seidman, Anthony Goaslin, Pascale Descance, Bill Weiting, Ayesha, Dana Rochelle, Sandy Ward, Sharon Franklin, Monica Miraglilo, Marita, Paul Mojica, Deborah Shaw, Richard Elms, Ingrid Cesares, Lee Henshaw, Sandra Bauer, Angelique, Wendy Taw, Nami, Vibe Magazine, Scott & Richard, Bob & Becky Marker, Deann, Paulette Fallon, Bobbi Eden, Kianna Dior, Shay Sights, Rachel Louise, Kelly, Holly Singelyn, David, Savanna, Hallie, David & Devon, Diana Desiderio, Tyson Beckford, Thandie Newton, Quincy Jones, Keith Murray, Heidi & Michelle, Andrea Suwa, Blend Magazine, BLVD Magazine, Lilian DeJong, Steffi, Justine Bakker, Ivita Rence, Jana, Anna Borleffs, Allison Dunlap, Dagmar Rose, Ettore Salon, Elizabeth Southward, Jennifer Cole, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vault Productions, Domina Barbie, Jilian Nonemacher, Leg Show Magazine, Isabella Reneaux, Esther Young, Sascha Lilic, Spoon Magazine, Neiman Marcus, Penthouse Magazine, Natascha, Emina Cunmulaj, Sonya Bright, Tony Ward (the model), GQ Magazine, Thomas Kramer, Park Avenue Magazine, Guinevere Van Seenus, Atomic Bombshell, Catherine Trifilleti Design, Alex Wagner, Louva, Alejandra Guerrero, Floore Jansen, Kimberly Kane, Jennie Shapiro, Maggie Stein, Delicious Corsets, Taboo Magazine, Rachel V, Ashlynn Brooke, Bonnie Rotten, Jessica Saint, Jennifer Lester, K Vaughn, Aradia Ardor, Kevin Stewart, Becky Marker, Katie Kerl.

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Bob Shell: We All Steal Ideas

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Photography by Bob Shell. Copyright 2018

 

 

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #21

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Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018

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WE ALL STEAL IDEAS

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I’ve talked about Richard Lovelace and his famous Althea poem. There’s another poem from the same era that you have probably heard without realizing it. It begins:

Once there was a way to get back homeward,

Once there was a way to get back home,

Sleep, pretty wanton, do not cry,

And I will sing a lullaby,

Golden slumbers fill your eyes,

Smiles await you when you rise,

Sleep, pretty wanton, do not cry,

And so on. Paul McCartney took credit for a slight variation on that verse, would have been nice if he’d acknowledged his source. Sadly, I can’t now remember the name of the original poet. Anyone know? The song McCartney wrote from that poem has an interesting story as well. One of the original groups signed to Apple Records when The Beatles started that label was a group originally called Poor White Trash, but later shortened to just Trash. They were signed around the same time as The Iveys, whose name was also changed. They became Badfinger, and went on to some fame. Anyway, the song Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight was written for Trash, who recorded the original version. Later, McCartney replaced the vocal track with his own and released it as a Beatles song. Don’t believe me? Listen to Trash’s version and then McCartney’s version. Save the vocals, they’re identical!

The music industry being what it is, I’m sure there are many other thefts from poets. And, after all, if the poet is long since dead, who’s to care? Probably nobody except people with OCD about such things, like me.

I’m reminded of an interview I once read of the great surrealist Salvador Dali. The interviewer asked Dali about his “borrowing” from other past artists. Dali bristled, his mustache quivering, he indignantly replied, “The divine Dali does not borrow; He steals!”. Yes.

If we’re honest as artists, whether with pen, brush, or camera, we all steal ideas. After all, there is always much to be learned from the masters. When I could find time in my travels, I always visited art museums. The paintings of the old masters can teach you all you need to know about light and shadow, and composition. After all, there are only so many ways you can pose a human body and have it look natural.

My own personal favorite artists are those of the Viennese school of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Particularly Klimt and his disciple Egon Schiele. There are some excellent videos on Klimt in the Khan Academy. The Khan videos we get here are very limited, so naturally we don’t get any on Schiele. I was lucky enough to see some of Schiele’s work in a small museum in Linz, Austria. I was there as one of the judges of an international photography competition and after a morning spent looking at hundreds of photographs, I needed a break to unwind, so I was just walking around the narrow streets of the old town. As I recall, there was a small castle on a hill that had been turned into a gallery. There among mostly mediocre old paintings was a Schiele, the first original of his I’d seen. It was wonderful. I’d bought a big book earlier that had all of his surviving works, but most were reproduced small. Here he was in full size. Many of Schiele’s works were destroyed by the authorities when he was imprisoned for making “improper drawings.”. Prudery is not confined to the USA. Today those surviving “improper drawings”are considered national treasures. Schiele did not produce a great body of work because he died young, victim of the 1918 influenza plague that killed so many in Europe. Funny, but I identified with him and his work long before my own legal troubles, which are mostly because I was making “improper photographs.”. At least that’s what the judge thought. He called my photographs “the worst pornography I’ve ever seen.”. Obviously he’s not a web surfer. In fact, he said all he knew about computers was how to turn his on! Here was a complex case about digital images, among other things, and the judge and most of the jurors were computer illiterate. Jury of my peers, baloney!!

But that’s not the topic of this post, so forgive the digression.

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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. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click herehttp://tonyward.com/2018/08/5866/

 

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