Category Archives: Obsessions

Bob Shell: The Photo Token Sets

Photo: Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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The Token Photo Sets

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At the beginning of 2001 I was forced out of my job as Editor in Chief of Shutterbug in a disgraceful, underhanded “palace coup.” I had been assured for years that I had ultimate job security, indeed my name was first at the top of the magazine’s masthead, and I had literally turned the magazine from a tabloid on yellow newsprint into a respected photography journal. Behind my back the coup plotters had told the corporate people in New York that I wanted to retire. I definitely did not want to retire. I was at the top of my game, 54 years old and full of energy and creative juices. By the time I realized what was up a new Editor in Chief had been hired and it was too late to stop the changes. I still have very hard feelings about this all these years later. It was some consolation, but not much, that the man who engineered my betrayal was himself out on his ear not too long after.

But, the long and the short of it was that I was still writing and doing other things for Shutterbug, but at exactly half my former income. I had to really scramble to make up the shortfall. I was writing for other photo magazines (while still the Chief Editor for Shutterbug my contract didn’t allow me to write for other photo magazines). But at $ 300 or so per article, that wasn’t bringing in the bucks I needed. A photographer friend in Canada told me about an agency that sold photo sets to token websites. In case you don’t know what a token site is, it is a website that you go on and buy tokens. The tokens can then be “spent” on that site or several others to buy photos and videos for download. I decided to give it a try, and shot some sets of models I knew. The formula was simple, woman starts out fully clothed and strips throughout the photo set until she is nude and then does some “show it all” poses. Some sets introduce sex toys or male partners, but not mine. Around 50 -100 photos per set. That’s it. Pretty much like the photo spreads in the men’s magazines, but more photos. Horny guys would pay to buy tokens and download the photo sets and videos.

Most of the models I knew had no problem with this sort of work, so I worked up a new contract to pay them a posing fee plus a percentage of the profit from the photos. I then wrote a Photoshop action to tweak and resize the images. At first I was shooting on film and using a Nikon Coolscan scanner to batch scan the film strips, but as soon as they came along I bought one of the first Canon digital SLR cameras and shot the photos with it. I believe it was only three megapixels or so, but was plenty good enough for Internet. These photo shoots turned out to be pretty lucrative, giving me and the models money, and the same sets of photos sold over and over as new people discovered them. Of course, this was volume shooting without much creativity, and pretty quickly started to get boring. To relieve the boredom I started shooting my own stuff with the models after we got the token shots in the can. That helped. I did a lot of token sets with Marion after we met. She really liked showing off for the camera. Nice checks were coming in every month. But when I was arrested.in June of 2003 the agency pulled all my photo sets out of circulation. That made me really angry, because I was supposed to be presumed innocent, but my arguments fell on deaf ears. Since nothing ever really vanishes from the Internet, those photo sets are probably still floating around out there in cyberspace. I was just gearing up to add videos when I was shut down. It was nice easy work while it lasted, the models and I often had a hoot shooting the photos, and it helped to keep the bills paid.

Did I have a problem with shooting what was essentially “softcore porn?”. My philosophy was the same as an old friend and photo magazine columnist. He always said, “Shoot anything that pays the bills, but whatever you shoot do the best possible job.”. I agreed.

I understand that today there is so much free stuff on the Internet that pay-per-view sites have a hard time surviving. I know that Marion’s favorite site probably survived, since it was full of free photos and videos. Every morning without fail I could find her in front of our iMac checking out consumptionjunction.com .

I used to look over her shoulder at the really weird photos and videos she loved. When she tired of this we’d watch the Naked News together (www.nakednews.com), a strange news site where the actual news was read by pretty women who stripped while reading. One of the strangest things I’ve seen on the Internet.

Who knew when the Internet first came along that it would become the major purveyor of porn? Just as when TV first came along, people thought its main use would be education — NOT!

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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 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here:http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-starting-a-studio/

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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Elaine Walters: Fear and Age at 50

 

. Text by Elaine Walters, Copyright 2019

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Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

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Fear and Age at 50

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I feared the idea of turning 50. That number just began to hover over me around the age of 45. I sailed through my 30’s and early 40’s as if I was still a 20 year old. Those ages didn’t slow me down in the least. I felt like I had my entire life ahead of me and I had so many ideas about who I wanted to become. I lived passionately, pretty carelessly, and a bit on the wild side. I was a slave to my heart and quite impulsive because of that. But I had time, so much time make it all happen.

Then, before I knew it, I was looking in the mirror, seeing the changes. The person staring back didn’t quite look like me anymore. Then came the realization that nothing in this life is forever. I think we know that, but it’s different when the time actually comes. It’s definitely a stop and pause moment. It’s scary, the impermanence of everything, health, family, friends, careers, and the seemingly simple gift of movement. To quote a friend, “the correlation between age and loss is not unfounded.” It has definitely been a turning point in my life. A lot of reflection and “what will my legacy be, what have I done that’s important, and what happens now?”

So, here we are ~ midlife. I’m still scared, but you know what? I’ve stepped outside my comfort zone a TON in this last year. I joined CrossFit after debilitating back pain when everyone told me not to, I started a business (at fucking 50!), and last week I got in front of the camera for this photoshoot.

The photoshoot was a big one. For as long as I can remember, maybe as far back as 9 or 10, I have been hyper focused on my body’s every flaw. Every dimple, every roll. Where I’m too flat and where I’m too full. I got into bodybuilding because that’s where I was going to reshape everything that was wrong with me. I worked hard, as I always do when I want something, but the harder I worked, the harder I was on myself and my shape. The closer I got to being on stage, the more my imperfections were magnified. Then, came a moment where I thought, this isn’t what this is supposed to be about. I do this because I want to be strong, I want to feel powerful, but mostly, I want to love who I’ve come to be.

This is when my original no, I’m not comfortable enough with my body to be photographed changed to, yes, I love who I’ve become, I want to do this. I couldn’t have been more comfortable being photographed on this lovely farm. The horses, the sun, the beautiful barns. These are things that have always brought me peace, a deep connection to my soul, and all that is important to me. All of the curves that I cursed were no longer even a thought. I was at home. Maybe this is what midlife brings, realizing the things that truly matter in life, finding where beauty and strength truly exist.

In retrospect, I think I’ve lived chasing my future so intently (where will I be tomorrow), that I’ve never actually been present. I’ve never loved the moment. I’ve never loved ME in the moment ~ this moment. And the deeper truth is, I’m not sure it was my future I was chasing at all. I was chasing a better version of me. So maybe my 50’s needs to be less about fear and more about what is now, who I am now, and just loving her, in this very moment.

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About The Author: Elaine Walters lives and works in Wilmington, Delaware.  Outside of the office, all of her time is spent riding horses and running her nutrition and fitness business where she coaches clients that are fed up with the diet industry.  This is Elaine’s first contribution to Tony Ward Studio.

She can be found on Instagram @elainecoale

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Portrait of the Day: Gina

Portrait of Gina by Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

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To see more pictures from Tony Ward’s erotica collection go herehttp://tonywarderotica.com/category/membership-account/

 

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Bob Shell: Starting a Studio

Photo: Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Starting a Studio

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Several friends have asked me for equipment recommendations for setting up a studio. If I were to set up a studio for still photography today (and I hope to soon do so), I’d invest in a set of Paul C. Buff’s Einstein flash units. I’ve used Paul’s flash equipment with complete satisfaction since he first started building it in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time of my conviction I was using several of Paul’s Alien Bees flash units, and some of his older units that are no longer made. Today I’d buy as many of his Einstein units as my budget would bear. They have every feature I could ask for, and can be used anywhere. On my European trips I used to take a Buff unit that Paul loaned me made for European voltage and a medium umbrella, since European hotel rooms tend to be small, and I used hotel rooms as impromptu studios when traveling.

Other flash systems I have tested that work well are Multiblitz, Hensel, Profoto, and Visatek by Bron. I’m sure there are others. Stick with well known brands, because others tend to go out of business, leaving you stranded if you need parts or accessories. I have one of those orphans, a Venca power pack and three heads. If it ever needs parts I’m stuck.

I’ve not used them, but I’ve been reading about the new LED flash units in Photo District News. Their advantage is zero recycle time. Their disadvantage is lower light output, but with today’s digital cameras that’s less of an issue since images shot at higher ISO settings are perfectly usable. The days of the xenon-filled flash tube may be numbered. But I wouldn’t call traditional flash down for the count just yet.

Regardless of light source, I prefer softboxes to umbrellas when there’s room. Speaking of softboxes, I have used a number of different brands and types, but generally feel the bigger the better for my fill light, since I like to mimic natural diffuse daylight. For years I used Photoflex softboxes, but have not seen mention of them for years and don’t know if they’re still in nusiness. For quality of construction and neutrality of color, I don’t think you can beat Chimera. Gary Register’s Plume Wafer boxes are also excellent, and thinner (but pricier) than others. I also like Photek. While film was generally somewhat forgiving of color cast and mismatches between softboxes, I’ve found that digital really shows these differences, so it’s probably not good to mix brands.

Light stands: The old standard Matthews C Stand is hard to beat. I’ve kept several in my studios for years. Otherwise, the Manfrotto stuff is tried and true. I prefer stands with wheels to make moving lights easier. I avoided cheap knockoff stands. I remember once watching in horror as the upper tube section on a cheap stand I was testing twisted and buckled, sending one of my flash units crashing to the floor. Thankfully the flash’s landing was cushioned by the attached softbox and it survived. The same caution also applies to background support systems. To handle rolls of seamless paper I’ve used the Manfrotto system since the 70s. You can mount the support brackets on light stands, but for a more permanent setup I mounted the supports high up on a wall in my studio and used the plastic chains to wind the paper up and down. That way I could keep three rolls on hand at all times for quick changes. A bunch of Manfrotto Super Clamps and their attachments belong in any serious studio. They are indispensable for hooking things to light stands, pipes, 2 X 4 studs, and numerous other things.

You’ll also want several rolls of real gaffer’s tape. Don’t try to make do with cheap duct tape, which will let you down and leave a mess behind when you strip it off. The real stuff can be peeled off and leaves no residue behind, and will support a surprising amount of weight.

Whenever I needed a dead black background I used a velvety cloth backdrop from Photek. It works much better than any black paper, and can be washed if it gets dirty.

One invaluable piece of studio gear is the plastic “milk crate” sold in many stores. Mine came from CVS. They’re great for storing things, and strong enough to be stacked up to support things. To make a raised platform in my studio I used eight of them stacked two to a corner to support a 4 X 8 foot Radva foam plastic insulating panel. This was strong enough to support several people. Just don’t let any of the models wear spike heels — they’ll punch right through the foam.

If you want a fog machine and have a nearby source of dry ice, Wayne Collins showed me a trick years ago to make lots of fog. Just buy a cheap shop vac. Put a few inches of water in it, throw in the dry ice, put the lid on, hook the hose to the outlet, and turn it on. Fog will pour out and you or an assistant can control where it goes. (If you want to get fancy, add an AC motor speed control, sold in hardware stores). This works better than expensive commercial fog machines because those use mineral oil based “fog juice,” and the mineral oil will condense on your cameras and lenses, and on everything else in your studio, as I learned the hard way. Unfortunately, dry ice is not readily available everywhere, and can’t be bought in advance and stored for any length of time. There are dry ice making machines, but they’re very expensive.

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To fire the flash units you can use the old-fashioned long PC cord, but I’ve never liked tripping on cords or getting tangled up in them. For years I used the infrared systems from Wein products, made by my old friend Stan Weinberg. But, sadly, Stan has shut down the business. I also used radio slave systems when infrared didn’t work, because it won’t work around corners. A number of companies make radio systems for firing flash units, and all of the ones I’ve tested worked well.

Where do you buy all this stuff? My sources for all my studio needs were Adorama and B&H. For the more unusual items I went to The Set Shop in NYC.

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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 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-americas-puritanism/

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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Linda Ruan: 10 Questions

 

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TW: Let’s start with your acceptance to PAFA. How did you feel when you heard the news of acceptance to MFA program?

LR:  It was only a month between my submission to PAFA and my acceptance into PAFA. I was excited because it would be my first time going to a fine arts academy to pursue a fine arts degree. My four-year liberal arts experience was more on the theoretical side. PAFA seems to be a better place for me to do something more practical. I went to the open house last fall and immediately fell in love with the facilities inside and decided to apply there: a rooftop terrace that holds the best part of the city, spacious private studio space, skylit painting studios and etc. The location is also a plus. Located in center Philly makes everything more accessible. More opportunities to go to gallery openings and to meet more people in the art circle. Hope I could walk outside my comfort zone and experiment with more mediums during my next two years there. Looking forward to the new semester.

TW: You spent part of the summer visiting friends and family in Shanghai. What is it like in China these days with the tariff wars seemingly going on with out an end in sight.  Are the American tariff’s having an impact on daily life in Shanghai and more generally through out China? 

LR: I am not really into politics, so I don’t have much to say for this question. But my friends talk about it, only talk about it because there isn’t much that they could do. I remember the day my friend circle all came out and cried when 1 USD converts to 7 CNY. The currency rate is going insane. It is now up to 7.16 CNY. The rate might be a real problem to those studying abroad because it means that they need to pay more for their high tuition. Other than that, I think people just live their normal life and are not really affected by the tariff. Well, I still need to say that I am not a political person. So my words really don’t count towards this one.

TW: So you’ve clearly drawn a distinction between your art and politics.  Tell me what draws you to make Art. What is its purpose if it’s not political?

LR: I don’t think art should always be political. My painting professor Ying Li at Haverford College was the one who inspired and encouraged me to do art. She always says to me: “just paint what you see and the more you paint the more clearly you will see the object”. Landscape, cityscape, and still life are my current main interests in painting. I am interested in exploring how forms, structures, and colors impact the way I see and make a painting. One of my favorite artists is Joan Mitchell whose work focuses on abstract forms and colors.

TW: You coined the phrase Imitation Kills.  What does the term mean to you and do you apply the concept in life in some way?

LR: I used that phrase for my social platforms. Nowadays people just imitate each other, from clothing style to art style. Influencers post outfits on Instagram and followers go after them. Originality is lost or is diminishing. People are doing similar stuff. I don’t think that’s a good thing, especially in the field of art because we are different individuals and we need to use our own way to prove that we are unique, even if one’s art style has not been widely accepted.

TW: Your current series of paintings featured at the senior exhibit at Haverford College this past Spring revealed a focus on abstraction with an effusive application of paint and vigorous brush work. How do you anticipate your work evolving in the next two years at PAFA?

LR: I look forward to trying something different at PAFA so I couldn’t answer how I would anticipate my work to be. Let this be an open question and we shall see.

TW:  You have a love for fashion that is often reflected in your affection for oversized clothing as part of your day to day style.  In this series of pictures another side of your persona is revealed in your choice of  bathing suit for a series of pictures taken at the Oceana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City.  Tell us about the black two piece you brought back from Shanghai on your recent trip. What is your impression of the Jersey Shore?

LR: I bought the bathing suits from a Chinese lingerie brand named NEIWAI. The brand features intimates for petite sizes. Their design is simple but also sexy in a subdued way. I think that impression is similar to my day to day style. They don’t have too many options in bathing suits, so I just bought the piece that I think might fit me the best in size. I chose black because that has always been my top color. The leather jacket is from All Saints. I feel more comfortable covering more of my body. Speaking of the Jersey Shore, I mean, who doesn’t like the beach? It’s a perfect getaway from busy city life. I like the architecture of the Oceana. The design is quite modern and the curves on the exterior are totally on point. Shoutout to Tony who picked this place to shoot. The surrounding fits the outfit perfectly.

TW: The Chinese government has blocked access to Google, Facebook, Youtube, and other mass global communication platforms on the internet.  What do you think the reason for that is?

LR: I think the voices on these social platforms are different, especially when the problem goes to politics. However, I am not saying that one voice is better than the other. It’s just that politics has always been a complicated thing. Our minds could be easily influenced by words spreading on these platforms. The government is just trying their best to eliminate the unnecessary issues that might arise.

TW: Are artists based in China heavily censored by the government as to what they can express in a work of Art?

LR: I am not familiar with the art circle in China because I spend most of my time here in the States. But I think we can do whatever we want unless we create and show art that has strong politically sensitive subjects. Other than that, I believe that artists based in China have enough freedom.

TW: With the exception of Al Weiwei are there other leading artists from China having an impact on the global stage that inspire you to make Art?

LR: I am thinking about adding more Chinese elements in my paintings. My two favorite Chinese artists are Cai Guo-Qiang and Xu Bing. They are both creative in their way of making art and are also the ones who incorporate Chinese materials and culture in their work.

TW:  What are your goals in the next 5 years?

Haven’t planned that far. I hope to have a solo opening after graduating from PAFA. So I guess I will keep painting. I am thinking about going back to Shanghai to spend more time with my family after graduation. It just has been a while since I first came here.

Editor’s Note: Linda Ruan is a recent graduate of Bryn Mawr College with a concentration on painting and art history. She recently enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

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