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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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"There is no reality; get over it!"
Old 12-11-2012   #1
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"There is no reality; get over it!"

The Luminous Landscape is a website that discusses a kind of photography far from the photography I enjoy and occasionally profit from doing. But I still check in to it every day because it is one of the most interesting and informative photography websites that I know of. For example, today’s new essay

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tu...t_we_see.shtml
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Old 12-11-2012   #2
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Thanks for the morning-coffee essay, Bill. His scientific background grounds the observations & reflections, and though the late advice abOut choosing a niche (with the example of shooting nothing but a fisheye) is a bit like proposing that artists should value tunnel vision or identifiable gimmickry over the essential and difficult humanity of seeing and helping others see, I appreciate his consideration of artist-photographers as his audience for this online lecture.
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Old 12-11-2012   #3
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... folk often confuse perception with reality ... that's why god created light metres
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Old 12-11-2012   #4
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No, Stewart-- god created water, to cleanse the doors of perception. I just splashed some on my face and eyes so I can go deal with what the university considers reality for a while until I can become a camera lucida (thanks, Barthes) again.

But I am packing my Luna pro & Retina, which may well have been built by the seraphim...
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Old 12-11-2012   #5
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I didn't gain enough interest to dive in and fully read the article, just the given example (bulb and rolling ball) Fig 4, a,b :

Why should this be perceived the way it is described here?
If the person viewing the set up sees both objects (ball & bulb flashing) at the same time, how could there be a delay in brain processing between the image of the two objects, resulting in the ball being supposedly perceived as to be left of the flashing bulb? Sorry, I'm not following that logic, yet...
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Old 12-11-2012   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by icebear View Post
I didn't gain enough interest to dive in and fully read the article, just the given example (bulb and rolling ball) Fig 4, a,b :

Why should this be perceived the way it is described here?
If the person viewing the set up sees both objects (ball & bulb flashing) at the same time, how could there be a delay in brain processing between the image of the two objects, resulting in the ball being supposedly perceived as to be left of the flashing bulb? Sorry, I'm not following that logic, yet...
The brain takes time to react so there is a delay between flash at the retina and 'flash' being percieved by mind/brain (ie 'wetware'). But the mind/brain is tracking a moving object the position of which is already being plotted. So the flash is in effect superimposed over on an impression created by the brain of what is really there.

The key point is that although the eye has a lens and a photosensor it does not record an photograph on the retina which is the transfered to the brain for interpretation. The optical system detects edges and patterns and movement what we see is built up from that data. ie what we see does not have a single focus point/depth of field/angle of view/perspective but is a model of the world.

I read the first edition of R.L. Gregory's Eye and Brain fifty years ago, the fifth edition was published in 1997: still worth reading.

I would also mention Y Lettvin, HR Maturana, WS McCulloch, WH Pitts. What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain. Proc. IRE. 1959
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Old 12-11-2012   #7
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I like this quote which appeals to my way of making images.

" “What is not constrained is not creative.” Philip Johnson-Laird "

With this in mind, I often dodge and burn for example, or use other techniques to constrain the image and reduce (yes I said reduce) the amount of information in it. If you lay it all out before the viewer, the image can quickly become boring. If you make the viewer think and interpet then that image is much more likely to be interesting. I have recently thought very often that many good images are very like good poems - they make the viewer think about what the creator is saying.

Many of my own favourite photos (ie ones I haev made) are ones that make me feel I am only getting a peek at reality, perhaps peering in through a window.
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Old 12-11-2012   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DtheG View Post
... But the mind/brain is tracking a moving object the position of which is already being plotted. So the flash is in effect superimposed over on an impression created by the brain of what is really there....
Sound like "messed up live view" to me , sorry couldn't resist here.
For sure there is scientific merit in this kind of research and very interesting findings but I don't see the relevance for my photography.
I better don't want to read about weird frog experiments (or any other animals used for experiments to fullfill a researchers wet dream about publishing something new) in the name of science. I guess this is digressing pretty quickly, so I stop here.
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Old 12-11-2012   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by peterm1 View Post
...
With this in mind, I often dodge and burn for example, or use other techniques to constrain the image and reduce (yes I said reduce) the amount of information in it. ...
Very interesting point. When having the opportunity to use a friends dark room for development and printing, I learned most about composition and the message of a shot.

He mentioned once:
"When you have to explain your shot, forget about it."

I used only one size of paper and always tried to maximize the important part of the frame onto that sheet, cropping out whatever was not essential.

Therefore you give the viewer only a very limited choice of interpretation what was important to you in that particular shot. You reduce the total amount of information to what you deem essential. Cropping does intensify the message by forcing the focus on the main content and eliminate distractions.
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Old 01-05-2013   #10
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The idea is not exactly new. Heres what some others had to say about it.
"Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one." - Albert Einstein

"Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed." - Garry Winogrand

"A still photograph is the illusion of a literal description of how a camera saw a piece of time and space. Understanding this, one can postulate the following theorem: Anything and all things are photographable. A photograph can only look like how the camera saw what was photographed. Or, how the camera saw the piece of time and space is responsible for how the photograph looks. Therefore, a photograph can look any way. Or, there's no way a photograph has to look (beyond being an illusion of a literal description). Or, there are no external or abstract or preconceived rules of design that can apply to still photographs." - Garry Winogrand

"All photographs lie, therefore all photographers are liars." - Monte H. Gerlach

"Because we see reality in different ways, we must understand that we are looking at different truths rather than the truth and that, therefore, all photographs lie in one way or another."- John Szarkowski

"What the photographer taking the picture and the historian viewing it must understand is that while the camera deals with recording factual things and events that form the subject of the photograph, it only produces a perceived reality that is remembered after the thing or event has passed. While people believe that photographs do not lie, this is an illusion caused by the mistaken belief that the subject and the picture of the subject is the same thing."- John Szarkowski

"All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth." - Richard Avedon

"Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be." - Duane Michals

"In photography we talk about illusions." - John Sexton
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Old 01-18-2013   #11
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a very interesting and thought provoking read, thanks for sharing it Bill! Interesting arguments from the author, and that Checker-Shadow Illusion is still doing my head in..

I love photography dearly, I just do it for fun and to document & share. From my end, for various reasons I've switched back to digital this year after 7 years of exclusively shooting (slide) film on Leica M's etc. Fuji Provia 400X perfectly captured the aesthetic and feel I wanted and I haven't wanted to let that go. These days I do a pretty fair approximation of that look using Alien Skin Exposure on my digital RAW files, but it's causing a minor crisis of conscience - as subjective as the slide film was (eg that lovely green glow daylight Provia film gets under artificial lighting) it at least seemed to me grounded in some kind of physical "realness" - the physical interactions of the light with the film making a physical record of that moment, the way that slides always looked just perfect as they were in colour, texture etc without having to be re-imagined on the computer, and so on.

Here's an example of the film simulation (OM-D w/12mm f2 lens, 16:9, run through lightroom and a profile I set up in Alien Skin Exposure. Photo taken spur of the moment, as we walked through some laneways on our way home):


The conclusion of that article seems to suggest I shouldn't worry about it, as it's all a work of subjective fiction anyway. My own conclusions are still pending - might be time for me to come up with a new aesthetic for digital that's not just looking backwards to my film, or maybe I should just do whatever makes me happy and not worry about it. Trying to pretend my digital is film makes me feel a little like a cheap hussy, but gosh there's a lot of practical advantages to digital these days. Still, I guess one of the key reasons Jackie Chan's old hong kong films were so great is that he did all the stunts himself, "for real", which gives it an impact that's just missing from modern CGI/wirework "simulations".

Right I think I need my morning coffee!

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Claptrap.
Old 01-18-2013   #12
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Claptrap.

This is simply more of Adobe's paid shill's propaganda to prosletize the concept of 'output referred' over 'scene referred', which they have been yanking on about since they started making their **** raw converter. That site is a nest of them, frankly.

"Is there a take home message in these ramblings? I think there are two. First, the serious photographic artist should not fear what automated cameras with extensive feature sets will do to photographic art, and second we should be open to any kind of photographic processing to produce images with impact. Images should be judged on their own as art, and the methods employed should be disclosed only at the photographer’s discretion. This follows from our realization that we always “see” the world through heavily manipulated images based on assigned colors, enhanced edges, interpreted shapes, extensive guess work, and learned associations."

This is to make it easier for us to want to BUY MORE STUFF. Shill!

"Many photographers claim that they want their photographs to look as realistic as possible. Taken literally, this implies a scene-referred image (explained in more detail below). Unfortunately, scene-referred images tend to look washed out and dark on displays and print, due to differences in contrast range and brightness. Hence, scene-referred images are commonly dismissed as no more than a technical curiosity.

In this essay I will argue that whilst scene-referred images are not very suitable as a photographic end product, they can fulfill a valuable role as an intermediate stage in the image processing workflow. Amongst other benefits, scene-referred intermediate images provide an effective way to 'insulate' the photographer and his/her style from the constant changes in digital camera equipment. Also, the use of scene-referred images suggests a natural workflow for HDR imaging and panorama stitching. Below, I describe the proposed workflow and a detailed list of potential advantages."

http://simon.tindemans.eu/essays/scenereferredworkflow
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Old 01-18-2013   #13
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"In the following sections I will briefly explore the operation of our visual system and then approach the question of where that leaves photography. In other words, what is left for photography and what can photography achieve? I believe there are two paths which are not exclusive. First there is the quest for the ultimate recreation of reality. The result would be a spherical, 3D, panorama of the world that would be instantaneously corrected and updated for our direction of vision and point of focus. This imitation of our real world stimuli could perhaps be experienced with the help of virtual reality goggles or their future counterparts. In this path there would be nothing left for the artist or the hobbyist. I call the other path the artistic pathway. In this path there would be self-imposed restraints as in traditional art. The artist does not attempt to capture the entire world on one canvas, and sculptors limit themselves to one or at most a few figures. Before I continue along this line we need a few details."

What the hell is he saying here? There are two extreme examples that he's presenting to us as a false dichotomy, however, they 'are not exclusive'? This is 'what's left for photography'?

Claptrap.
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Old 01-18-2013   #14
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The subject of 'reality' often comes up in discussions on post processing. There is an innocent point of view that pp is evil and distorts reality, and a scene should be rendered simply as it comes out of the camera. Along with this we hear that the 'skill' in photography is to do just this, render reality entirely through the camera's native functions, not through the minds eye.

The fundamental flaw in any of this is that reality is distorted more by pointing the camera in one direction or another, editing and cropping the world around the photographer, than it is by turning a blue sky red in pp. We know what a blue sky looks like, we know what a red sky looks like, we don't need a photo to tell us. But we don't know what the photographer left out of the picture. So the only 'real' thing about the photograph is the bit we can't see, what is out of the frame, thats the bit that hasn't been messed with. The rest, as framed and presented as a photographic image, is a construct of the photographers vision, good or bad.
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Old 01-19-2013   #15
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Its all very complicated isn't it? My solution has been to do what I like, think less about it and explain it to those who ask. Seems to be working quite well
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Old 01-19-2013   #16
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+1,

I had a meeting via a glass of wine with a gallery owner last night, great conversations, plans about an upcoming show of mine, state of the industry stuff....

In short, he said the following of this kind of pro-photoshop crap:

"The digital garbage heap has been rotting for a number of years now. The funny thing is all these people think art buyers can not smell it. My typical customer is an educated art buyer and they are simply not going to spend thousands of dollars on something that they can sit in front of a computer and do them selves. It's almost as if they are often buying the notion of the journey the artist took as much as the art it self."


Quote:
Originally Posted by Ranchu View Post
This is simply more of Adobe's paid shill's propaganda to prosletize the concept of 'output referred' over 'scene referred', which they have been yanking on about since they started making their **** raw converter. That site is a nest of them, frankly.

"Is there a take home message in these ramblings? I think there are two. First, the serious photographic artist should not fear what automated cameras with extensive feature sets will do to photographic art, and second we should be open to any kind of photographic processing to produce images with impact. Images should be judged on their own as art, and the methods employed should be disclosed only at the photographer’s discretion. This follows from our realization that we always “see” the world through heavily manipulated images based on assigned colors, enhanced edges, interpreted shapes, extensive guess work, and learned associations."

This is to make it easier for us to want to BUY MORE STUFF. Shill!

"Many photographers claim that they want their photographs to look as realistic as possible. Taken literally, this implies a scene-referred image (explained in more detail below). Unfortunately, scene-referred images tend to look washed out and dark on displays and print, due to differences in contrast range and brightness. Hence, scene-referred images are commonly dismissed as no more than a technical curiosity.

In this essay I will argue that whilst scene-referred images are not very suitable as a photographic end product, they can fulfill a valuable role as an intermediate stage in the image processing workflow. Amongst other benefits, scene-referred intermediate images provide an effective way to 'insulate' the photographer and his/her style from the constant changes in digital camera equipment. Also, the use of scene-referred images suggests a natural workflow for HDR imaging and panorama stitching. Below, I describe the proposed workflow and a detailed list of potential advantages."

http://simon.tindemans.eu/essays/scenereferredworkflow
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Old 01-21-2013   #17
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Thanks for the link, enjoyed the article. Despite the neurophysiological/psychological origin of the examples, the problems discussed have also a philosophical heritage. My first reaction upon reading the article is that the author is not denigrating realism/reality but rather arguing for a kind of indirect realism whereby perception provides for (indirect) awareness of physical objects in virtue of direct awareness of internal, non-physical objects (the various stimuli). So, it seems to me, the title of the article ('There is no reality') goes a lot further than what is actually argued in the text.

Of the examples offered, the problem of illusion/hallucination is a serious one for someone who adheres to direct realism (i.e. that in sense-perception we are directly aware of physical objects). It may still be resisted (direct realism does not entail infallibility, at least in a non-naive version of it) but it's a hard one. A variant form of the flash and ball experiment would be to consider the case where we perceive something like a star. As it happens, what we see is not how the star is now (for all we know the star may be dead by the time we perceive it). So the star may be an object of indirect perception only, or so it is argued.

However the argument based on the complexity of our neurophysiology is not as compelling. (The point he makes about vision as 'simulation of reality' is in that same tune.) The enormity and complexity of processing taking place in the neurophysiological level is causally necessary for perception to occur but we are not aware of any of it as it takes place, nor do we have to be aware of these processes in order to perceive physical objects. So the neurophysiological processes cannot function as intermediary objects of perception after all.

In the last part the author leapfrogs into the conclusion -- if vision or perception are only simulating and hence, he seems to think, distorting reality, then one should accept, if not embrace, the same for photography. Again, entailing distortion from simulation seems unwarranted. A simulation (more pertinently a representation) is only claimed to preserve structural relations, not to create an ersatz image of reality. In that, both perception and photography largely succeed. (Somewhere here the aforementioned problems of perceptual and photographic illusion rear their ugly heads.)

All said though, I think the author is only presenting some thoughts (he calls them 'ramblings') that, rightly or wrongly, lead him to certain conclusions. It doesn't seem to me he is trying to forcefeed lies anyone, let alone sell Photoshop or whatever to anyone. I wouldn't blow any fuse over it.

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