Whenever it was a sunny day which at times seemed too few and far between, Amsterdam street cafes and private decks were the place to visit with friends. When the sun was out, everyone was always in a good mood, no matter what personal circumstances may have brought gloom and doom on any given day. My friends used to say whenever Tony is in town the sun is shining. I was lucky that way.
On this particular sunny afternoon, old friends from different generations were amongst the first native women in Holland I came to know. Ellen, the woman being photographed with a flip phone, owned a lovely lingerie shop called Female & Partners in Amsterdam’s city center in 1999. I was referred to visit the shop when I called upon a stylist and asked for a recommendation for a store that sold unique lingerie sets as I was preparing for a new series of photographs for a magazine article about my erotic work in Europe. When I entered the exclusive women’s boutique the young woman taking the picture was behind the counter. Not quite like the way she looks in this picture but close. She had the most adorable face and Dutch accent that I couldn’t help but ask to photograph her while she was behind the register. From that point on we kept in touch and would see each other around town within our circle of friends.
Four years later in 2003, Ellen, the woman being photographed in these pictures was the original owner of the shop. I didn’t meet her on the first day of my visit years earlier, but we later met through friends and enjoyed each others company. Whenever I was in town it was a delight to meet up with Ellen for drinks and hear all of the latest insider gossip. She was truly a free spirit and exuded a certain joie de vivre. She defined Dutch beauty at any age. I can’t recall why Ellen and Sita came over to the apartment that day. Maybe it was purely just to enjoy the sun. get naked and take a few pictures with my new toy, a Nikon Coolpix digital camera. These are amongst the first images I produced with the new digital medium. Nowadays, I’m using a pocket size Sony mirrorless camera.
At this point in our relationship between photographer and muse, Jennifer and I had already known each other for a couple of years. You can see from the series how comfortable she was with me in front of the camera revealing her most intimate fantasies. These types of pictures don’t come easy between photographer and muse. Trust is the main ingredient in these erotic endeavors.
For this shoot I was offered a minimalistic modern house to photograph in Chestnut Hill, an exclusive neighborhood in Philadelphia where my makeup artist at the time was living with her boyfriend. Jennifer and I had about two hours to shoot while the homeowners were away at work. Like in most location sittings I first do a walk through to see where the best settings were to stage the photographs; living room, stairway, bedroom of course etc..,
We were blessed that afternoon good weather and a clear sunny day. At around 3:00pm light streamed into one of the master bedroom windows where I quickly worked to portray Jennifer in the warmth of the late afternoon golden summer light as she proceeded through a series of evocative and intimate poses. The pictures may appear effortless to the casual voyeur but they required a lengthy courting period.
Change has been one of the few constants in many people’s lives, myself included, as of late. Over the past year I: graduated college early, got two part time jobs, and obsessed over avoiding the virus that has consumed not only a staggering amount of lives, but our media and thoughts daily. Over the past month I: started a podcast with one of my best friends, quit one of my jobs to get a full time one, and was a passenger in a rear-ending car crash. All that to say, I’ve had to learn to not only be okay with change, but comfortable with it. Yes of course there is so much to fear in our world as we know it today, but there is still so much to look forward to. And while it may not feel like it at times, we are still in control. In fact, these turbulent times may be the best opportunity to initiate the change you’ve been craving rather than sitting back and letting the universe have the only say in how your today is any different from your yesterday.
Yesterday I chose, last minute, to spend some time running errands with my podcast cohost, Sabrina. Our new creation and bundle of joy (yes, the podcast) is called Hot Thoughts with Hot Thots, and it all started with a drink. Sabrina and I were sitting at a table in the courtyard of The Velveteen Rabbit, a bar in Las Vegas, feeling sorry for ourselves that we apparently chose to sit next to the heater that was only for decoration. We laughed over our recent turmoils, tried to make one another feel better, then landed on how proud we were of our friends who have started businesses and hobbies to keep themselves busy and creative…Well that sort of turned into complaining about acquaintances who seemed to be getting attention for things that Sabrina and I felt we could excel in. One of those things, happened to be podcasting. For years, we would stop mid laughing fit to ask ourselves why we didn’t have our own reality television show as we find ourselves to be quite the comedians.
Well this comedian stopped sipping her fruity, pink, sugar-rimmed cocktail when Sabrina asked, “Why don’t we start our own podcast?” When I back-handedly said “good for” the podcasting acquaintance, I didn’t actually think we would start a conversation on creating a platform for ourselves to prove we could do it better. We decided to talk about what we love most, our opinions. And while we always enjoy each other’s advice and quips, we were pleasantly surprised by the support of our friends from coming up with the name to the amount of listeners. We received over 100 listens before we even released a third episode! In our episodes, Sabrina and I ask each other a question, answer a couple questions sent in by listeners, and then ask the listeners a question for them to answer in the next episode. With such a simple formula, we thought it would give us plenty of room to be creative and hopefully stay fresh long enough to keep our current following as well as generate more listeners in the future.
This small change we made in our lives, to record a 30 minute podcast about once a week, has given both me and Sabrina something to look forward to. We talk to each other that much anyway, but the fact that other people want to listen to and support those conversations make us feel appreciated in a way we’ve never felt before. This past year has been so isolating that I finally understand the craze of YouTubers and why someone would watch a person they’ve never met simply play a video game. It’s not connecting in the same way our parents taught us, through hugs and play and being together. This type of connection touches you in a different way, it’s hearing your thoughts come out of someone else’s mouth or finding out that you’re not alone with your questions or problems. While we may not know all of our listeners personally, we feel the support, love, and understanding of each one. People are asking us questions that not only allow us to share the things we have been waiting to say out loud, but also ones that challenge our thoughts and what we say and have said.
So while change can be scary at times, it may be invigorating to respond to life’s unexpected changes by making a change all on your own. Buy that house, move to that state, date the guy, get to know the girl. Whatever change you have been debating, its outcomes may pleasantly surprise you. If you’re scared, go ahead and think about that worst possible outcome and then ask yourself, “Would I be able to handle that?” Because if the answer is yes, what is holding you back? An “oh well” is always more fun than a “what if?” In my opinion at least. Moral of the story: do the thing. You already have at least one supporter, me.
The March/April 2020 issue of Discover magazine has a couple very interesting articles on scientific research into the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), shows great promise in treating ARML (Age Related Memory Loss), dementia, and may even reverse Alzheimer’s. That’s pretty amazing to me, because back in 1969 I was arrested for possession of marijuana, one single joint in the pocket of a man who didn’t live with us, was just visiting. Five people in the apartment, one had marijuana, all five were charged with possession! Not only were the four of us who had no marijuana charged with possession, we were each facing up to thirty years in prison!
And this being Richmond, Virginia, we were all convicted! I got a three year sentence, thankfully suspended, and had to fight to get that conviction expunged so I could vote, own firearms, and exercise constitutional rights that most people take for granted.
My life was totally disrupted, and one of my best friends who’d been living with me in the apartment put a gun in his mouth and killed himself over it. I’ve never completely gotten over that. A young life ended by the evil of misguided government.
Now, fifty-one long years later, we’re finally getting around to doing the research to find out what marijuana actually does when ingested by humans. And we’re finding out that it does some remarkable things, like restoring memory function to aging brains when used in moderate quantities.
Serious research was blocked for generations by stupid regulations that made such research almost impossible.
Actually, the research had unwittingly already been done in the field. There are areas in Kashmir and other high Himalayan regions where people have cooked their food in Red Oil, marijuana oil, for centuries. All we need to do is compare them with others who live in similar localities but use other oils for cooking.
When National Geographic sent a team into the area years ago for a story, the photographers and writers ate what the locals were eating, and found themselves too high to function. It took them weeks to get accustomed to having high levels of THC in their systems and become functional again. But the people who cook with Red Oil aren’t any less healthy than their neighbors who don’t, and show no increased level of mental problems. They live quiet, happy lives.
Is marijuana totally harmless, then? No, (and probably should only be used by adults, as it may be harmful to developing brains), but neither is coffee, chocolate, tea, or countless other plant products. Demonizing marijuana, as the U.S. government did for years, ruined lives and was far more harmful to society than marijuana ever could have been, even if the lies about it had been true.
Here in backwater, backward Virginia, people have even seen the light. Our legislature, the General Assembly, which likes to remind us that it is the oldest elected legislature in America, has finally passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana, and our Governor says he will sign it. But decriminalization is not legalizing, and they’ll still be able to bust you for having it. It will just be a fine instead of jail or prison.
We’ve had a “medical marijuana” law in Virginia for years. It says they can’t charge anyone for possession if they have a valid prescription from a Virginia doctor. But doctors here were not allowed to write such prescriptions! And prescriptions from one of the surrounding states or D.C. weren’t any good.
All laws making marijuana illegal need to just be struck from the books. For that matter, it is my opinion that all drug laws do far more harm than good. We could save a hell of a lot of money and break the backs of the drug cartels by ending unproductive prohibition and disbanding the Drug Enforcement Administration, and have local police stop wasting time and money harassing people for simple possession. All those millions of tax dollars could then be put to productive use.
Almost all of the Democratic presidential hopefuls say they favor legalizing marijuana, as has President Trump. I say, stop talking and do it! Trump could do it with the stroke of a pen with an Executive Order, as could the next president, if it’s not him. Fifty-one years is too long to wait.
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 11th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: https://tonyward.com/bob-shell-finally-something-good-to-report/