Letters From Prison: Part 13, 2018
Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018
As promised, the story of PIC magazine. PIC, was short for People In Camera, and was started in the early 80s by Chris Knight as a sort of hobby. Captain Christopher Knight, to give him his proper title was an almost stereotypical rich English eccentric. He lived in a castle in Kent (Cooling Castle), had a full-time staff of falconers to care for his hawks, eagles, owls, and falcons, all of which spent most of their time on wooden perches in the castle courtyard. Chris was the scion of a family that owned fleets of container ships, which he and his brother had inherited. He was also a pretty darned good photographer, specializing in photos of pretty women. There was an old barn on the castle grounds that he’d had wired up and turned into an exceptionally well outfitted studio. He brought professional models from London for his own shoots and worked with a group of photographers who conducted workshops there and on the castle grounds. The photo of Karen Boyle, that year’s Miss Jamaica, that graced the splash page of my old bobshell.com website (and may still be up) was taken in one of the castle’s ruined towers in the summer of 1993. Anyway, I’d somehow met Chris, I don’t remember where, and was the invited up to the castle for a photo shoot and chat. Chris wanted to talk to me because PIC had been in the red for years, and as he said, was eating up all his “pocket money.”. We talked, he hired me as a consultant, and had the magazine’s books sent over to me. The problem was obvious when I looked over the books. He was grossly overstaffed, and was paying people high salaries for doing very little. I advised him to make some serious staff cuts, which made me very unpopular with those who got the axe, but in a short while the magazine was showing a small profit. Chris didn’t care if it made a lot of money, he just didn’t want it to keep on losing money.
One day I was in my office at home (I always worked from home) and got a call from a solicitor (British for lawyer) in London. It seemed that Chris had had a heart attack, and after hanging on for a week in hospital had died. But you could have knocked me over with a feather when he told me that Chris had rewritten his will during that week and had left PIC to me for a very nominal sum if I wanted it. Wow, biggest surprise of my life! I decided to give it a go even though running a magazine by “remote control” from the USA presented some major challenges. For most of 1994 I was essentially commuting between Radford and London. PIC originally had it’s offices in the grimy old English city of Rochester. I didn’t want to go up there, so I moved everything down to Hove on the south coast, and borrowed a large office from Hove Foto Books, my English book publisher, for a few months until we found a London office near Kings Cross, London. I realized at some point that trying to run a magazine in the UK while holding together my American commitments was just about impossible. Plus, we had a serious cash flow problem. On paper we were looking good, but many advertisers simply weren’t paying their bills. Not just little guys either, but some major companies were holding onto our invoices for six months or more. Meanwhile we had printing, postage, salaries, etc., that had to be paid right then. Then, real disaster struck! Over the long Christmas holiday a water pipe on the top floor burst, flooding our office and ruining things. The bottom line was that I could not go on pouring thousands of pounds of my own money in every month. Unlike Chris my resources had rather tight limits. So I had to make the very painful decision at the end of 1994 to shut the magazine down.
It was great while it lasted and I was very proud of the “book” (as magazines are called inside the business). We won an international design award for one cover, by the amazing Japanese photographer Hiroshi Nonami. The president of Olympus in the UK wrote to me to say that my cover portrait of model Nicolle Gray was the finest portrait he had ever seen. I was gratified by such positive feedback. I still own rights to the PIC name and logo and hoped to one day relaunch it. If I ever do it will most likely be as a webzine.
Having to close that magazine was like losing a child.
I did meet some very interesting people during that time period. Anyone from the UK reading this and old enough will probably recognize the name Keith Johnson, founder of Keith Johnson Photographic, later just called KJP, which was the largest chain of photo shops in the. UK. By 1994 he had sold the company and moved to his vineyards and winery in Sussex, where he was producing a very nice wine called Sussex Gold. He invited me, Michael Barrington-Martin and Bob Dove, two of the PIC writers there for a day. Keith had opened a restaurant there and had a nice big meeting room. We discussed having some photo workshops there, but that never came to pass. I had taught some workshops in London by then as well as in Germany, and was looking to expand, but things just didn’t work as well over there. The logistics were horrific and ate up any profit. Eventually, I settled down to the USA and Caribbean, where the logistical problems were fewer. My outdoor workshops were held here in Virginia on forest land I owned, in Florida on St. Pete Beach and Clearwater, and in Nevada at the Valley of Fire State Park. In the Caribbean I used beaches and private estates on St. Thomas, USVI. I had people from Europe and Japan come to these, which was easier than taking my show to them. I also conducted many studio workshops in my Radford studio, which had been specifically set up for teaching. It was big enough (35 x 80 feet) to have multiple sets active at the same time. Of course, I lost my studio when I was convicted, along with practically everything else…..
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 at Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Mr. Shell is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-letters-from-prison-12/