Bob Shell: Some Prison Thoughts

Woman masturbating in an old prison in Paris inside the catacombs
Catacombs. Paris. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022



“Sometimes I think this world is one big prison yard,
Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,
Lord, Lord they laid George Jackson down,
Lord, Lord they laid him in the ground.”

— From the prison song ‘George Jackson.’
George Jackson was a California prisoner killed by guards who shot him in the back of the head.

I am approaching the beginning of my fifteenth year of incarceration, which will begin on September first. People ask me, ‘How have you kept your sanity?’ Actually,it hasn’t been that hard, because I know in my soul that I am right and they — the so-called ‘justice system — are wrong. My conscience is clear. I can truthfully say that I never killed another human being, or contributed in any way to the death of one. Nor have I acted inappropriately with any of the over two hundred women who have modeled for me. That’s why so many of them are my friends today. I always respected them, treated them as persons, collaborators in the production of my photographs. They were always paid well.
In January of this year, after looking at all of the evidence in my case, most of which is demonstrably false, the Innocence Project took my case and assigned me an attorney. Their standards are very high, and they only accept a tiny fraction of the hundreds of cases brought to their attention. They studied my case for five years before taking it. They have asked me not to talk about the specifics of my case here, so that is why I can only speak in generalities, but I have genuine hopes of release.
Photography was in my life ever since my father taught me to develop film and make prints in his basement darkroom in my early teens. I had an old Ilford Ensign folding camera that I bought at a Goodwill store for something like fifty cents. It took remarkably good photographs. I even adapted it to work with my microscope. As I learned more about photography, my father let me use his cameras, first an Aires rangefinder camera, later his Exakta and Leica cameras. I got hooked on photography and never looked back.
But I originally didn’t think of making a vocation of it. If I thought about it at all in those early days, the late 1950s and early 1960s, I envisioned it as a hobby, like my father’s.
In 1965 I graduated high school near the top of my class and went on to college at Virginia Tech, majoring in biology and fine art, where I took my first, and only, photography class. After graduation, I was offered a job at the Smithsonian Institution, and went to live in Washington.
Fast forward to the 1980s. By 1985 I’d established a reputation as a photographer and writer, with agents for my photography in Europe and Japan. I became known for my classic nudes and Virginia and other US and foreign landscapes. My agents placed my photographs in many publications, including Asahi Camera, Japan’s preimminant photography magazine, on the covers of the Japanese editions of Danielle Steele romance novels, in a series of books published by Rotovision in Switzerland, and in ‘Asian Photography’ magazine in India. I won an international design award from Graphis for one of my magazine covers.
I made my first trip outside the USA in 1980 to attend photokina, the ‘World’s Fair of Photography’ in Cologne, Germany, and attended that event every even-numbered year until 2002, meeting photographers and people associated with photography from everywhere in the world, networking, establishing a worldwide network of friends and associates, many of whom I am still in contact with today.
My first one-man gallery exhibition of my photography was in 1973, in Richmond, my last in 2004-5 in Chicago.
By the time of my arrest in June of 2003, I was, in the words of Federal Judge Glenn Conrad, “A renowned photographer with a long-established reputation.” My arrest was reported by media in England, France, Germany and Italy, that I know of, perhaps in other countries where I was well-known.
I worked very hard at my photography and writing to establish that reputation, but to the small-minded police and prosecutor, it meant nothing. A lifetime’s work went up in smoke.
As a result, I have not so much as touched a camera since August of 2007, and only had limited access to computers in prison law libraries, for legal research and writing only. These computers are not connected to the Internet.
I write these posts and my blog on a JP5 mini tablet, which has a 4 1/4 inch screen and a tiny Android keyboard. I’m on my fifth one, because the batteries don’t last. We’ve been promised the larger JP6 for well over a year, haven’t seen them yet.
So here I sit on a hard bunk at 4:00 in the morning writing these thoughts. Going back to the question of preserving my sanity, writing these posts has really helped as has writing my blog, and a few magazine articles as well as my 2019 book ‘Cosmic Dance,’ which has sold fairly well considering I have been unable to actively promote it.
Before my incarceration in this human warehousing system I’d written more than two dozen books and over a thousand magazine articles for magazines in many countries, translated into most major languages, even Serbian.
Contact via letters and email with friends around the world has helped me keep a positive attitude. They know the truth about me. I even have one friend who emails me regularly from Tehran, Iran. Anyone reading this can email me via JPay. On you can sign up using my name, Robert Shell, and my ID number 1201280. I’m always happy to hear from people out in the real world.
At age seventy-five I know there are far fewer years ahead than have passed, and can only hope to be free once more when I have some years left. The man in the cell next to me is in his mid-90s, feeble, possibly suffering from Alzheimer’s. I have watched many men die in prison in my years of incarceration, the saddest death I can imagine, and I certainly don’t want to be another one.


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 15th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here:

Bob Shell: Photographer’s Language and Thought Police

A young woman wearing a fetish outfit corset with spikes high boots and long barrel pistol
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022


Photographer’s Language and Thought Police


Now photographers are being singled out by the ‘thought police.’ According to a new ‘Oppressive Language List’ put out by the administration at Brandeis University, we’re no longer supposed to say we ‘shot’ a photo, did a photo ‘shoot’, or took a ‘shot’ at something. We’re  not supposed to say we ‘triggered’ a camera or a flash, because the words ‘shoot,’ ‘shot,’ ‘trigger,’ etc., all have gun associations. 

This is not just for photographers, they say. We’re also not supposed to say ‘killing it’ for doing well at something.  Australians will have to no longer use ‘shoot through’ as slang for dying.  Apparently, guns are such nasty, evil things, and all references to them, even oblique, must be expunged from our language. 

Now, I’m not a gun fanatic, like people I know who have personal arsenals, but before my arrest, I did have a Remington single-shot, bolt-action .22 rifle, a single-barrel .410 gauge shotgun, and a 9 mm semiautomatic Beretta pistol. The shotgun was a gift from my grandfather who used to go dove hunting with it until he was shamed into quitting hunting by members of his congregation. You see, he was a Methodist minister and some of his flock disapproved of a minister hunting. The only times I ever fired it were to shoot at tin cans I threw into the air. I’m not a hunter, but I am open minded enough not to hassle friends who are. This world has room.for both. 

My rifle and pistol were both gifts from my father. I used them only for target practice, and became a pretty good shot. Both are being held for me by a friend until I can get my ridiculous conviction overturned. 

I’m not in favor of government gun control, because I’ve lived in countries that have it, and my harmless plinking away at targets would have been very difficult, or impossible there. 

The purpose of the United States Constitution and its Amendments is to limit government, not empower it. Those wise founders of this republic had lived under repressive monarchy and never wanted it rearing its ugly head here. 

But, right now as a convicted felon, if I get out I can’t own any guns, I can’t exercise that right granted to me, not by government, but by the Constitution. 

I was convicted in state court. Gun ownership is a Federal right. Will someone please explain to me how a state can trump the Federal Constitution. The same goes for voting in Federal elections, which I can’t do now. All citizens were given rights by the Bill of Rights, which was added to the Constitution to spell out our rights and guarantee them against government intrusion. Somehow those guarantees have been diluted. 

A great man once shouted, “Give me liberty or give me death!” We got the latter.


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 15th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here:

A.H. Scott: Hanging

Young woman handing naked from the ceiling of a frat house party
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022.

Poetry by A.H. Scott, Copyright 2022


Hanging on your every word
Hanging on to the anticipation of what comes next
Hanging on for what you know is best
Hanging my desires on a chain which you lead me by
Hanging in suspended animation of knowing your love makes me fly
Hanging pearl necklace around my neck
Hanging in place, for your banging to begin
Hung….yes, you are….and I love hanging on a hung stallion that you are…..

About The Author: A.H. Scott is a poet based in New York City and frequent contributor to Tony Ward Studio. To read additional articles by Ms. Scott, go here:

Bob Shell: Censorship Rears its Ugly Head in Virginia

Topless beauty in hotel room photographed by Tony Ward
Isabella. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2022

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022


Censorship Rears its Ugly Head in Virginia


Tonight, June 14, 2022, I got a publication disapproval notice for the June issue of ‘Rolling Stone.’ A very good friend recently gave me a subscription and this was my first issue on that subscription.

It was disapproved for “Material that contains nudity. The showing (human or cartoon) of the male or female genitals, pubic area, female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of the areola, or male or female buttocks with less than a full opaque covering of the anus.”

I photographed nudes starting in the 1960s for more than forty years. I’ve seen countless female breasts. Seeing one now is somehow going to cause me harm? And note that it’s only seeing female breasts that will hopelessly corrupt me! I can see topless photos of Vladimir Putin day in and day out. Men have nipples and areolae, too!
I remember seeing an article years ago featuring a number of closeup photos of nipples, challenging the reader to identify which were male and which were female. It was impossible to tell. As I recall, one or two weren’t even human.
Sexual discrimination is illegal, so how does the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) get away with having such a blatantly sexist policy? Are we living in some restrictive theocracy. Will the VDOC next impose Sharia Law?

The magazine was also disapproved for “Material that depicts, describes, or promotes gang bylaws, initiations, organizational structure, codes or other gang-related activity or association.”

I’m a 75 year old white man. I’m going to join a gang??? Wonder if there’s one called ‘Hell’s Geezers?’ Is there a southwest Virginia chapter?

The man who signed the disapproval is the ‘OM’ the same man who recently disapproved ‘The Week’, my weekly news magazine, for showing gang symbols. Fairly new on that job, I think. Maybe he should consider relocating to Iran. There are probably many jobs open there for censors.

‘Rolling Stone’ contains important political articles and stories about culture. It is often quoted in other media. It is a highly influential journal that I’ve been reading since the 1960s and often features cutting edge photography.

I plan to contact Rolling Stone’s legal people. Maybe they would like to slap the VDOC down for ignoring the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court has held that freedom of the press contains the right to read. Censorship is unconstitutional! It must be stopped wherever it rears its slimy, reeking head!


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:

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


My Photographic Philosophy


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.


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

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:

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 . 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 Here’s the link: