'This is the true joy in life...being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force for nature...'
These are the first words of a famous quote from the Irish playwright and social critic, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). A formidable character, Shaw used his fame and his theatrical pulpit to draw attention to the most relevant political, economic, and social issues of his day.
'...I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can...'
These inspiring words have resonated with me for decades. Since the early nineties, my focus has been on some of the most formidable issues of our time. My modest record of 'doing for the world what I can' includes nearly two decades writing and producing long and short form videos.
We tried our best; but, in the end, our work hasn't make much difference. I turned my attention to writing books.
I am principle author of a non-fiction book titled, The Hydrogen Age. Green Hydrogen, as a clean energy carrier, is poised to play a substantial role in the sustainable energy economy now emerging.
Beyond energy, my biggest concern is food insecurity. In my lifetime, the number of humans on earth has more than doubled to nearly 8 billion, overwhelming the planet's ability to provide. In the words of the immortal cartoon character, Pogo. 'We have met the enemy and he is us'.
Human hubris has put the biosphere into a tailspin. Some see no way out. Some believe the destructive course we are on is unstoppable; entrenched in granite. I don't believe that. I do believe we all need to step up and deal with the trouble we've made for ourselves. Every person who understands the truth of what is happening to our Earth has an obligation to step up and take a chip out of 'business as usual'. A new, sustainable way of living can emerge, when enough people are aware and are prepared to stand together - peacefully, courageously, firmly committed - battling for meaningful change.
The bellmeio.com website is an adjunct, a reflection of one of the media projects my colleagues and I are currently developing. These are fictions that entertain and sensitize at the same time. The Bellmeio storyline is built around a famous fashion photographer/adventurer. He has many beautiful women as friends. He enlists some of them to be messengers on his website for the most prominent causes of our time.
'...I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live...'
So continues the George Bernard Shaw quote. A few years ago, I had a close encounter with the reaper. I survived. What I took from that was a determination to wholly embrace Shaw's inspiring quote during the time I have left.
So, here we are ...
Bellmeio's presence on the internet, as experienced here and now, offers only the slimest of hints on this effort as it evolves and emerges. Bellmeio.com is a simple, unrefined shell that includes a home page slideshow of some of the wonderful young women we've worked with in our studio. There is also a gallery called Daughters of the Cosmos that celebrates female beauty, confidence, and sexual power. Another page offers further insight into the question: 'Who is Paolo Bellmeio?'
Adieu and many thanks for stopping by. Let me just add, if you need enlightenment and inspiration, George Bernard Shaw's life and words are a very good place to start.
Portland, Oregon, USA
A Bellmeio.com Q & A
Who is Paolo Bellmeio?
More or less, he is my alter ego. I was lit up on cannibis one day, thinking about story ideas. I love the creative process; allowing the mind to wander freely. I am digging into my psyche, trying to identify threads of stories that are both entertaining and informing on the human condition in positive ways.
So, I came up with this idea about a bigger-than-life Italian fashion photographer. Think Antonio Banderas with a camera. Paolo Bellmeio is a character. He spends about half of his time shooting fashion and glamour photos of beautiful women; the other half, he is off doing risky photojournalism on the consequences of climate change, food insecurity, and such.
Bellmeio as a story line is incomplete at this point. I’m still working out the final chapters.
So, you are actually doing now what you saw Bellmeio doing in your head?
Let’s just say, I’m trying to emulate Bellmeio’s path in the way that I can. I’m still a work in progress.
How did you get into photography?
I first dabbled when I was a college student. I had an old 35mm rangefinder camera. I got away from it for a long time. Then came the digital photo age. I bought a cheap camera. In 2006, my life took an unexpected turn. I had a very close shave with the reaper.
I went in for a routine CAT scan, looking for an abdominal hernia. What they found was a tumor the size of a baseball on my pancreas. I was told there was a one percent chance it was not cancerous. Pancreatic cancer is a very bad thing. I thought I was a dead man. It was devastating emotionally. What troubled me the most was the unfinished business. I felt my story was incomplete. I wanted to stick around to see how my story turned out, but it appeared like was over before being finished.
You’re still here.
After ten days, the biopsy result came back. I was in the one percent. I had dodged the reaper. I went through a six-hour surgery. I survived. After that experience, I recognized that I had to take charge of shaping the final chapters of my own life.
That’s what motivated you to be like Bellmeio?
Not right away. I became environmentally conscious in my early twenties, while a student. In the early ‘90s, I began working on documentaries and short videos focused on energy, population, and the environment. I had some success with that. That ended when my wife Jenny and I moved to Oregon. It was shortly after that life change, that I had my brush with the reaper. Then, I started having issues with my spine. I had three spinal surgeries between 2007 and 2009.
How did that lead back to photography?
I had been doing some photography with a local club. I met some great people. My back issues made it increasingly difficult to get around. One day, I had a chance to join a group of photographers on a fashion/glamour photo shoot. It was a bunch of mostly male photographers and four or five young women acting as unpaid models. They wanted to be photographed. They were there to have fun. It was fun, but there was no nudity.
That’s when you decided to become Bellmeio?
Not right away. I participated in a few more group fashion/glamour shoots, but at that point, I was concerned that I might damage my credibility as a voice for the planet. I didn’t want to be lumped in with men, who exploited and mistreated women.
Where do you stand on women’s issues?
We live in a male dominant human culture. It’s been that way for 10,000 years. Men have made the rules. Women have been subjugated and reduced to a form of property. Nature is given value only through what humans can extract and quantify. The mess humans leave is dismissed as an external that our current brand of economics ignores. Women and nature have been exploited relentlessly for thousands of years. It’s very hard to break that cycle. In North America, Europe, and some other places, women have made great progress toward equality. There are also many parts of the world where women are still getting a raw deal. More than half of humanity is of the female gender. The law should say that Women are equal to men in all ways in all places. I support equality in all ways. I have publicly presented myself as a feminist man, who loves women and wants the best for them.
You were concerned that was incompatible with taking provocative photos of women?
We have a politically charged atmosphere on gender issues right now. There’s this overriding argument that anything that draws attention to female sexual appeal and power is objectifying; that it demeans all women. I didn’t want to get caught up in that. I wanted to be a male voice in service to gender equality. Our world is in very big trouble environmentally, socially, and economically. Solving these problems is not going to happen unless women are equals at the table, where the critical cultural decisions are made. I want to help that process along. I don’t want to do anything that could detract from that goal.
How did you find your way past your reluctance?
I thought a lot about this question. My conclusion about art is that it should provoke attention. Nature is sex positive. I decided to make art that is sex positive. We all have a powerful need to be sexual. We are hard-wired that way; males and females. Why would a woman be gifted with a clitoris if it wasn’t nature’s intent. Bottom line: we should celebrate female sexuality. I celebrate it. What’s not to celebrate? I am a male sexual being. There is no shame in appreciating women who are in touch with and comfortable exercising their sexual power. That’s what my art is about.
Some people will say you are objectifying women. You’re okay with that?
I am okay with that. There is nothing illegal, immoral, or unethical about the art I create. Women can be objects of beauty and desire. Both male and female humans have ‘pleasure circuits’ in their brains that compel them to have sexual feelings in the presence of an attractive human of the opposite sex. This is how we are wired. It gets labeled as ‘objectifying’. It is nature’s intent. The problem comes when that is the only way we see a female human person. For thousands of years, humanity has been trapped in a hierarchical, male-dominant cultural construct that reduces female humans to sexual objects. We need to replace cultural dominance of females with partnership and cooperation. Sexually ‘objectifying’ has a pejorative connotation, but it is a normal thing, as long as it is not the only way we see females. We must learn to relate first to females as complete, gender equal human beings. Our sexuality is not shameful. It should be a powerful source of joy and celebration.
So, you had your epiphany with Bellmeio?
It was troubling to feel ambivalent about how to celebrate what I felt should be celebrated. I wanted to do more photography with women. It’s fun. There’s no denying that, but I needed to feel right in my mind about it. I had created a fiction with a sex-positive, larger-than-life character named Bellmeio. Then, one day, my brain went into creative overdrive. It came to me that I should embrace Bellmeio’s mantra in my own life. I decided to own it, run with it, and have fun with it
How has your photography evolved since then?
When I started working with models in 2009, I was still building skill as a photographer. Over time, I became a better photographer technically. At first, I worked mostly ‘Trade for’ with models that wanted to build their own portfolios. No money changed hands. There was no nudity. I provided photos in return for modeling time. It was about learning how to collaborate comfortably and effectively with a model. I did not want to be labeled as a ‘GWC’. That’s a dismissive label for a ‘guy with a camera’; a creep with no worthy motive. The best way to avoid being labeled is to take quality photos and behave respectfully and professionally, which I have always done. Most of the time, I collaborate with one or two other photographer friends. We hire a model for a couple of hours, and do our best to have fun and be creative.
You will still be criticized.
No doubt. I’m not looking for anybody’s moral judgement, but if it comes my way, I will defend my choices. The creation of art, for me, is an exercise in provocation. I love it when people appreciate my work. It’s a celebration of free expression. For those who are critical, I am ready to defend myself and the models with whom I collaborate with every resource at my disposal.. Nature is on our side.
What can you tell us about your models?
We find them on the net on websites where they offer themselves for hire as adult models. Let’s address one myth here and now. The models I have worked with have all participated freely and with enthusiasm. I’m not going to suggest I know what they are thinking. I will share what I believe based on my experience. The women who choose to be art models like being sexually expressive. Modeling nude is a provocative act. It takes courage and confidence. Being naked in front of the camera is a sexually-charged thrill. The models I have collaborated with all seen to be empowered by the process. They have taken ownership of their sexuality. Some, but not all, are adult entertainers. They like what they do. They make no apology for it.
What do you say about unwanted sexual exploitation?
I am against it; totally, without reservation. Some reports suggest that 20 million women and children worldwide are still caught up in sexual exploitation and slavery. Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations all support the decriminalization of sex work. Much of Europe, and Australia, and New Zealand have already decriminalized. I’m all for that. The entire world needs to go that way. Let’s save the policing for the real criminals, the pimps and thugs that victimize and exploit defenseless women and children. Save the prosecution for the real criminals. I also support a progressive regulatory framework shaped to protect the health and safety of people who get into sex work by choice.
Is there a line you won’t cross?
Of course. For me, the line I will not cross divides celebration from abuse, any kind of suffering, violence, or unwanted exploitation. I do not and will not produce any art that reinforces any kind of gender dominance.
I want to live in a world that is life-affirming and sustainable. That requires a global human commitment to dignity for all and a commonly-shared responsibility for proper planetary stewardship. I don’t see that as possible without gender equality in all ways. For women, that includes being able to celebrate their sexuality without shame. I think, in my own small way with my art, I am making a positive contribution to the kind future I wish to see.