Bob Shell: My Photographic Philosophy

Cover of Bob Shell's Bondage art of rope
Bob Shell: Bondage  Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022

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My Photographic Philosophy

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Back in 2004, in collaboration with the German publisher Goliath, I created the book ‘Erotic Bondage: Art of Rope,’ published under my Edward Lee pseudonym, a pseudonym I’d used since the early 1970s. The book, out of print since 2009, has become somewhat of a cult classic, with used copies selling for crazy prices. 

My models and I worked hard to produce the photographs for the book, during many studio sessions for over a year. I must emphasize that, even though they appear to be in distress in some of the photos, the models never were. They were just good actresses. In fact, we often had to take pauses in the sessions because we were laughing so hard. 

But we worked hard to make the photographs convincing for their target audience. My friend Lee Higgs had done his book ‘Generation Fetish’ with Goliath, and introduced me to the man who ran the company. They liked my work, so gave the go ahead to the project. They decided to make my book the first of a new series, launching a new imprint, MixofPix, books of uniform size and style. 

My girlfriend’s modeling pseudonym was Chloe Jennings, and I credit her with the original idea for the book, as well as much of the poses and rigging. 

The book is multilingual with the text in German, French, Spanish and English for worldwide sales.

In the English version of the introduction I wrote: 

I would like to take the credit for having the idea for this book, but I can’t. Doing a fine art black and white erotic bondage book was Chloe’s idea, and when I agreed that it was a good idea and wanted to work toward making it a reality, she threw herself into the photo shoots for the book with complete devotion. Many of the ideas for shoots, particular poses, specific rigging and props were hers. I consider the work we did together a collaboration of two artists rather than my sole creation. 

Many of the photos of other models sprang directly from ideas that she had that we never had the chance to work on. 

I had been doing fine art photography professionally for more than thirty years when we met, but had never really gotten serious about trying to depict artistic bondage. It was only when I got really serious about producing the images for this book that I realized just how hard it would be to create enough fine art bondage images that I thought were good enough for a book. Many sessions later I finally felt that I had enough work to produce a book that would live up to the original artistic concept that we developed. 

As for the frank nature of my work, I feel that the body is beautiful, and that includes all parts and aspects of it. I have photographed nude women (and a few men) for so many years that I treat their bodies as forms to create my compositions. Eroticism is created by the tension of the poses and the restraints on the bodies, as natural a thing as the body itself. 

To those who view my work as pornographic I can only say that modern psychology has shown that pornography is not inherent in the work, but is in the eye (and mind) of the beholder. The photograph only acts as a mirror. 

I’m often asked which photographers influenced my work. The reality is that I was trained in the fine arts of drawing, painting and sculpting before turning to photography. I was influenced in lighting and posing by the great masters of art as much as by any photographer. The artist who influenced me most is that misunderstood Austrian master Egon Schiele. 

Among photographers that I have a particular affection for are Robert Demachy, William Mortensen, Helmut Newton, and Edward Weston, among the past masters. Among today’s photographers I have been particularly impressed by the work of Ralph Gibson, Tony Ward, Craig Morey, Lee Higgs, Sam Haskins, Jeff Dunas, Robert Farber, Jacques Bourboulon, and many others. I give all of these influences credit for the good parts of my work, and as for the rest I assume the blame. 

Having this book come to life is one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I just hope that the viewers will come away with an appreciation for the beauty of bondage and fetish, an aspect of humanity that is all too often swept under the carpets of our minds. If I can open a few eyes and minds I will feel that it has been work well done. 

I wrote that in early 2004. I feel the same today. And for feeling that way and acting on it, I am a prisoner today.

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woman in bondage at outdoor picnic site
Photo: Bob Shell, Copyright 2022

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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 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywarderotica.com/bob-shell-the-opiate-of-the-masses/

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. Here’s the link: 

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