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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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The real thing
Old 06-23-2011   #1
Bill Pierce
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The real thing

It is a sad day when a friend dies.

Eric Meola last saw Clarence Clemons this year shortly after Clarence’s 69th birthday, at Clarence’s condo on Singer Island, Florida. Clarence made dinner for Eric and his wife, spaghetti and meatballs.

I got so sick of New York Times eulogies talking about the Born To Run cover of Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen without crediting it to Eric that I put a response on the last article by Jon Pareles (who devotes his entire closing paragraph to the cover image).

This is what I wrote and was added to the responses on the web.

“The Born to Run album cover was photographed by Eric Meola, a major figure in contemporary photography, who went from enthusiastic fan to trusted friend of both men.”

A lot of people get to see your pictures. But you are involved with the real thing, your subjects.

Here is what Eric has to say about the shoot.

http://ericmeola.blogspot.com/2011/0...rn-to-run.html

Last edited by Bill Pierce : 06-23-2011 at 20:02.
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Old 06-24-2011   #2
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I’m writing this just to move this particular thread’s title back to “Last Post” visibility. I think Eric’s essay is important reading for a lot of photographers.
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Old 06-24-2011   #3
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Thanks. Huge fan of Bruce and love Eric's work with him from that album. He recently put out a book based on those sessions. It's very nice.
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Old 06-24-2011   #4
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It's amazing how subjective one's perception is. Despite all of the accolades accorded to the cover photograph of "Born to Run," the image strikes me as a standard studio shot, requiring little more than reasonable technique to create. If the subjects seem to reveal real emotion, the capture of these feelings in the photograph is the result of the photographer's dumb luck, or so it seems to me.
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Old 06-24-2011   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gdmcclintock View Post
It's amazing how subjective one's perception is. Despite all of the accolades accorded to the cover photograph of "Born to Run," the image strikes me as a standard studio shot, requiring little more than reasonable technique to create. If the subjects seem to reveal real emotion, the capture of these feelings in the photograph is the result of the photographer's dumb luck, or so it seems to me.
howse your luck been lately?
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Old 06-24-2011   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gdmcclintock View Post
the capture of these feelings in the photograph is the result of the photographer's dumb luck.
Actually, this is not far from the truth. Only it's not dumb and it's not luck. It is something indefinable like intuition and it takes a lot of sensitivity, perception, and confidence. Once you reach a certain level, you learn to bank on "dumb luck" or that which cannot be explained; all good photographers do.
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Old 06-25-2011   #7
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Bill;

Great article, thanks so much for posting this!

Best
Paul
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Old 06-25-2011   #8
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Good read, thanks for the post.
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Old 06-25-2011   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gdmcclintock View Post
It's amazing how subjective one's perception is. Despite all of the accolades accorded to the cover photograph of "Born to Run," the image strikes me as a standard studio shot, requiring little more than reasonable technique to create. If the subjects seem to reveal real emotion, the capture of these feelings in the photograph is the result of the photographer's dumb luck, or so it seems to me.
And that sums up why many people have so little respect for photographers. "Your camera takes really great pictures!" Really? How about the operator of the camera?
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Old 06-25-2011   #10
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Thanks for posting!
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Old 06-25-2011   #11
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Thanks for this, Bill. Great reading.

The harder you work, the luckier you become!
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Old 06-25-2011   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by back alley View Post
howse your luck been lately?
Exactly.

Great link, thanks for posting!
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Old 06-25-2011   #13
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Again, perception is subjective. The sarcastic ad hominen remarks do not change the fact that one photographer's sensitive, intuitive portrait is another's commercial schlock.
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Old 06-25-2011   #14
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thanks for posting this.
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Old 06-25-2011   #15
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The purpose of my post was not to be critical of Meola's body of work. Indeed, I think many of his photographs are beautiful. What I was noticing was the pure subjectivity of one's perception. The album cover in question was designed to communicate as much commercial information as possible: information about the music, musicians, production, with a glimpse into the "character" of the star via the portrait. This is an example of the art of commerce rather than the art of photography. Sensitivity and intuition on behalf of the photographer? Perhaps. Dumb luck as a commercial accomplishment? Absolutely.

We live in a world controlled to a greater or lesser degree by our perceptions of the images the media bombard us with incessantly. Art and commerce have become completely interchangeable. Just look at the "artistic" success of so many commercial fashion photographers. I may be an old fart out of step with the times, but I believe that art transcends commerce, and commerce is not art just because it is successful.
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Old 06-25-2011   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PKR View Post
Being able to apply the rules of lighting and composition derived from painters working several hundred years ago doesn't make you a commercial hack in my view.
I couldn't agree more! (Of course, I do not place Meola in the same camp as Penn or Avedon; perhaps I should be more open minded.)

Thank you for a very interesting conversation.
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Old 06-25-2011   #17
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There is no doubt that those of us who do not rely on photography for our livelihood have the luxury of practicing photography for art's sake and can afford to be flippant, even arrogant, when confronted by commercial photography whether or not the photographer has enough talent and freedom to inject some measure of artistic vision into the sale of AMEX credit services or rock'n'roll music.
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Old 06-26-2011   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sonofdanang View Post

...

And pardon my tone - I'm feeling militant.

...

Edit: I've just read Eric's essay and my heart is singing. I've put the album on and some faith is partially restored. There is that connection that, when found, is absolutely where it's at, Jack. The "real thing", indeed. Righteous.
Thank you again,
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Militancy and faith are weapons of a true believer perhaps, but no basis for rational discussion.

Last edited by gdmcclintock : 06-26-2011 at 07:52.
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Old 06-26-2011   #19
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"Fill 'em and bill 'em!" as they say on Wall Street about customers and their orders to buy or sell stock. For the cynical, commercial photography travels the same road.
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Old 06-26-2011   #20
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At regular intervals, Eric Meola would close his studio, while continuing to pay his staff, and take off to do personal work. 2 of his 3 books, India and Last Places on Earth, were produced from pictures taken on these self assignments. Shooting for Last Places was often dangerous. And that was long before Eric was approached to continue the work for a book.

Eric did the pictures of Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen because he was their friend, not because he was a commercial photographer who drew the assignment from some agency pool. He did them well, not because he was an advertising photographer, but, because he was a good photographer. Yes, he was a very successful advertising photographer. Before that he was Pete Turner’s assistant. And he also shot editorial material for Time Magazine. I can assure that you don’t do that because of the money.

Every prominent photographer that I know was an avid photographer before he became a professional to support his photography. A few have had money to begin with. A few managed to survive on grants. But the majority supported themselves by taking pictures for others.

If someone says that Don McCullin, Jim Nachtwey and all the rest of us who shot wars did it because we wanted the money or we were professionals just taking pictures we were told to take by our employers, they have a very strange perception of the world around them. If they think the big difference in photographers is whether you are an artist or a professional, I suggest they think about two other more realistic extremes - not so good and very good.
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Old 06-26-2011   #21
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Thank you for your recent post, Mr. Pierce. Your conclusion underlines what I have been trying to say all along: whether art, commerce, or some mixture of both, what constitutes the not so good, the mediocre, and the very good in photography is above all a matter of perception.
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