Bob Shell: Letters From Prison # 17
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018
Artwork by Dean Rosenzweig, Copyright 2018
DEAD CATS IN THE STUDIO – YIKES!
Some years ago my friend Steve Sint and I were eating in a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan, when the subject of discussion turned to what our personal limits were, what we would and would not photograph. Basically Steve argued for photographing anything at all, so long as the pay was good and it wouldn’t get you arrested, while I thought a photographer should have some narrower limits. Looking back on that now, I realize that my limits are pretty bizarre by many people’s standards.
Case in point: Those dead cats.
At some time in the mid-80s, Ruth Steinberger, an illustrator friend who primarily illustrates textbooks, came to me with a project. It was to illustrate an anatomy and physiology lab manual. The plan was for Ruth and the author to bring the dead cats to my studio and dissect them in stages. I was to take photos and Ruth would do line drawings to make the details easier to locate, photo on left page, drawing on right page. This project took something like two weeks with the smelly cats in my studio. I don’t know what they use as a preservative now that formaldehyde has been banned, but it sure stinks! Took weeks for that smell to leave my studio completely. Limits: they also wanted some pictures of cadavers, but I said no, no dead people in my studio!
Was I wrong? Steve would have thought so, and said go for it. But I just couldn’t wrap my mind around working with dead bodies. The cats were enough for me.
Which brings me to another weird project, dead aliens. You may remember the furor raised by the FOX TV program Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction broadcast, I think, in 1995.. As it turned out the owner of the film wanted my help in authenticating that the 16mm film actually dated from 1947. I knew that Kodak used edge marks exposed onto the film during manufacture to make dating of film footage possible. I was sent some pieces of the actual film to analyze, and the edge markings were correct for 1927, 1947, or 1967 (Kodak reuses the code every 20 years), but there was a hitch – the film was a copy, not camera original footage. This was explained because the camera original would have been a negative and copied onto another film for projection. The film was supposedly shot by an Army photographer after the crash near Roswell, New Mexico, of an unknown aircraft The film couldn’t have been shot in 1927 or 1967 because the film type (Kodak Super XX) wasn’t made in those years. So was it really filmed in 1947? I couldn’t say 100% yes or no, but my gut feeling is that it was.
While working on this project I was contacted by a producer from TF1, one of the French TV networks. Would I come to Paris to give my opinion on a live, two hour program they were doing on the film? Oui! So off to Paris I flew to appear on Jacques Pradel Presents. Pradel was sort of like the French Dan Rather, with an enormous following. They’d built a giant eye on the set with a working iris, and it opened and I walked out of it and down stairs to dramatic music to meet Pradel. We carried on a conversation that was somewhat stilted because I don’t speak French. So as he was speaking a babelfish in my ear was piping in a “simultaneous” translation. The same for him since he doesn’t speak English. Anyway, it was a blast, particularly the after party! Anyone interested in learning more about this episode of my photographic career can read the book that Mike Hesemann, Philip Mantle, and I wrote titled Beyond Roswell. My name isn’t on the book cover due to contractual problems, but I’m in there as co-author. And, no, I don’t get any royalties, that’s long since ended, so I don’t profit if you buy the book. Actually I’m still mad at the publisher. They sent me galley proofs so I could make corrections, I spent hours going over them and sent in a long list of corrections. Then the book came out without a single correction being made! These things happen and the authors get the blame. When my first book (Pro Guide: The Canon EOS System) came out, two of my photographs were printed upside-down! Of course those readers who noticed blamed me.
Is that really a dead Roswell alien being sliced and diced in that strange film? The jury is still out on that. Anyone interested can find tons of pro and con on the Internet, including an audio file of my interview with Art Bell on his old Coast to Coast FM radio program. I’ve just learned that Art died, a real loss to his many listeners over the years.
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: https://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-art-of-rope/