Photography and Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019
Why did I choose to specialize in photographing female nudes? That’s a question I was often asked at my lectures and workshops. My answer is that I know of nothing in nature more beautiful than the human body, particularly lithe young bodies unashamed to be naked for my camera. That’s why Marion appealed to me so much as a model; she was a natural nudist. Whenever we were in private places, off would come her clothes!
Some of my best models were referred to me by my late friend Ed Harper. Ed and his wife were both regulars at a nudest retreat near Richmond, and Ed was an avid photographer who often photographed women he met there. He’d refer the best of them to me, sometimes coming to my studio to photograph them with me. These young women were all completely comfortable posing nude, and since they were nudists, they didn’t have tan lines. Tan lines are the bane of photographers. Yes, they can be Photoshopped out, but that’s a lot of work. I once had a policewoman who wanted to model for me, The only problem was that she spent a lot of time outdoors directing traffic, so her arms where they weren’t covered by her short sleeves were much darker than the rest of her, which was relatively pale. I had to give up on her, because my Photoshop skills just weren’t up to fixing that!
Tattoos can also cause problems. One of my favorite models, who modeled under the name Elkie Cooper, had a bunch of tattoos, and I don’t know how many hours I spent in Photoshop when I wanted them out of a particular picture. In most cases I would not have gone to all that trouble, but Elkie had a magnificent body, and a wonderful personality, and brought my photos of her to life. Of course, when they fit the mood of the photo I’d leave the tattoos alone.
Skin blemishes are also a problem for photography as are scars. And I once had a model show up for a shoot with a real shiner of a black eye. She gave me the old “walked into a door” line, but I didn’t believe a word of it. We did what we could with makeup, and I posed her with her good eye toward the camera, and I don’t think any of the magazine’s readers saw anything amiss. When you’re on deadline you make things work.
My biggest peeve was when a model would make some drastic change in her look and not tell me when I contacted her to set up a shoot. I’ve had models cut off all their hair, change it to a weird color, put it in dreadlocks, get breast enlargement, gain a lot of weight, and so on, so that the person who showed up at my door looked nothing like the person I thought I was booking.
Why I chose to photograph women is simply that I don’t do well photographing men. Oh, I’ve tried, but I find the angularity of the male body much harder to pose. Of course, when I was running a portrait and wedding studio I photographed anyone who came in and wanted their picture taken (very few wanted nude photos!) I realized pretty quickly that I really didn’t like that type of photography, so I cut way down on the amount of this work by raising my prices until I was the most expensive photographer in the area. I worked a lot less but ended up taking in about the same amount of money. By the end of the 80s I was making more money from magazine work and the books I was writing than from photography, so I sold the business and moved on, only photographing things I wanted to photograph. I never looked back.
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-meditations-on-cameras-and-the-state-of-the-photo-industry-today/