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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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WSJ/Magnum
Old 09-28-2012   #1
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WSJ/Magnum

Perhaps this ties into the thread on Instagram, but it deserves its own space.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...mber_168902153
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Old 09-28-2012   #2
Gabriel M.A.
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Quote:
More troubling is the fact that with the decline of the press and its demand for relevance, and the rise of the gallery where everything can sell, we have lost the tension between good and good-enough-to-show-the-world. When there were fewer photographers, Magnum admitted only the best to its club, and we trusted it to be our gatekeeper. Now we live in a world without Life magazine, but with too many pictures. What form of photojournalist will emerge from these conditions? Who can make images for the digital world that will show us something we can't see without them?

Editors are mainly to blame. They would rather pick images for free than pay good salaries to good photographers for good photographs.
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Old 01-12-2013   #3
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As I read it - the image is gone, but the story will stay. There are enough patterns in photography created already. The time for story telling shots has come IMHO.
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Old 01-12-2013   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sejanus.Aelianus View Post
That icon of Magnum, Cartier-Bresson, claimed that he always composed in the viewfinder and had his shots printed full frame. However it turns out that at least one of his celebrated pictures, "The Jumping Man" represents roughly half of the negative.
This is supposed to represent a contradiction on Cartier-Bresson's part? Aspiring to compose fully in the viewfinder is not the same as cropping occasionally when necessary. He did not claim to be infallible. The photograph is called "Behind the Gare St. Lazare"

Re. the article, not bad for a general audience who never thought about this issue but rather lacking in useful, innovative or provocative analysis.
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Old 01-13-2013   #5
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cropping can help an image and HCB's image is probably an example of that ( I guess I have never seen the whole frame?). But that is the photographers choice in how to print and submit it. That is a different subject that Bill's OP. I have commented for a while about the demise of true outlets for photojournalism and certainly the decline of payments, assignments and careers. I still hold out hope that some "outlet" for this type of work will develop other than specialized web sites. Perhaps museums will fill that void but exhibitions are expensive and there are probably already too many photographers vying for limited exhibition space in the world class museums.
A bad situation for sure ...
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Old 01-13-2013   #6
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interesting read
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Old 01-14-2013   #7
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Thank god for the book. It how I look at most photography these days. Of course, I go to the galleries and museums, but it can take many years for some photographer's work to show up in those spaces.
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Old 01-14-2013   #8
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Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
Thank god for the book. It how I look at most photography these days. Of course, I go to the galleries and museums, but it can take many years for some photographer's work to show up in those spaces.
The photo book as we knew it for the 2nd half of the 20th Century is essentially extinct.
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Old 01-14-2013   #9
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Originally Posted by Pablito View Post
The photo book as we knew it for the 2nd half of the 20th Century is essentially extinct.
Can you provide evidence to back this up?
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Old 01-14-2013   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pablito View Post
The photo book as we knew it for the 2nd half of the 20th Century is essentially extinct.
That'll be news to Phaidon, Steidl, Aperture et al.
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Old 01-14-2013   #11
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Originally Posted by jsrockit View Post
Can you provide evidence to back this up?
The near impossibility of getting very high quality book proposals published. Even very accomplished photographers, Magnum members (as a nod to the OP), others with international reputations have a very hard time getting books published.

During the 60s-80s publishers would take on interesting or compelling photo book projects because they knew they could make money and produce a nice book with an edition of 2,000 or 3,000. People would buy the books, production values would be pretty high, etc.

Today print runs need to be much higher, far fewer photo books are being produced by far fewer publishers willing to make the investment. No one is satisfied with a modest profit, publishers want a huge profit. Costs of paper, ink, and printing have skyrocketed.

As a result of all this, the books themselves tend to be much more generic or have a broader appeal, such as books on celebrities or pretty Irish landscapes, lingerie, or genitals (take a look at Taschen's "Sexy Books") etc.

And book buyers have become more fussy. A black and white photo book printed in halftone would be dead in the water. Buyers won't even consider a b&w photo book unless it is at least duotone.

Today, even world-class artist/photographers need to approach potential publishers with grant money or other funding.

I could go on and on. There are, of course, exceptions to everything. But there's not doubt this is the trend.
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Old 01-14-2013   #12
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Originally Posted by semilog View Post
That'll be news to Phaidon, Steidl, Aperture et al.
This comment lacks long-term perspective.
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Old 01-14-2013   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pablito View Post
The near impossibility of getting very high quality book proposals published. Even very accomplished photographers, Magnum members (as a nod to the OP), others with international reputations have a very hard time getting books published.

During the 60s-80s publishers would take on interesting or compelling photo book projects because they knew they could make money and produce a nice book with an edition of 2,000 or 3,000. People would buy the books, production values would be pretty high, etc.

Today print runs need to be much higher, far fewer photo books are being produced by far fewer publishers willing to make the investment. No one is satisfied with a modest profit, publishers want a huge profit. Costs of paper, ink, and printing have skyrocketed.

As a result of all this, the books themselves tend to be much more generic or have a broader appeal, such as books on celebrities or pretty Irish landscapes, lingerie, or genitals (take a look at Taschen's "Sexy Books") etc.

And book buyers have become more fussy. A black and white photo book printed in halftone would be dead in the water. Buyers won't even consider a b&w photo book unless it is at least duotone.

Today, even world-class artist/photographers need to approach potential publishers with grant money or other funding.

I could go on and on. There are, of course, exceptions to everything. But there's not doubt this is the trend.
And while those authors who publish written works better do their own spell checks now, photographers better have someone at the printing press checking on image quality. Add to this that for some time now many publishers have put the burden of promotion on the author, providing no or little support in promoting a book that they, too, profit from.
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Old 01-14-2013   #14
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Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
And while those authors who publish written works better do their own spell checks now, photographers better have someone at the printing press checking on image quality. Add to this that for some time now many publishers have put the burden of promotion on the author, providing no or little support in promoting a book that they, too, profit from.
Yes, exactly.

And the photographer pays for the trip to Shenzhen to be on press.
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Old 01-14-2013   #15
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If you're footing the bill, why go to Shenzhen when you could go to Verona? Heck, you might even win an award!
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Old 01-15-2013   #16
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Those who stick with the old model bemoan the difficulty of publishing/profiting from their art. Meanwhile those who use the new models find it far easier to get their art to an audience.

I see a parallel here with the music industry. While the old guard music industry pressed for harsher penalties for music fans who copied files the new artists gave away free downloads and established themselves.

Likewise it is harder to get a book published by the traditional route but self publishing and promotion have never been easier or more effective.
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Old 01-15-2013   #17
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I enjoyed the article, Bill. Thanks for posting the link.

It seems to be a nice little summation of an 'era'. I think that its still true however that a photographer has to put themselves in the right place at the right time to get the important photograph. Its not clear to me that giving everyone a smartphone is necessarily going to result in getting the important image for free, if at all. I suspect that it still takes a trained eye and brain to make the images that support the stories. Time will tell...
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Old 01-15-2013   #18
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but self publishing and promotion have never been easier or more effective.
Which is why I think the photo book is still relevant in 2013.
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Old 01-15-2013   #19
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^--- Yes. That. Exactly.

If one reads about Daido Moriyama's early years, much of the most important work was distributed through a small magazine that he and a few friends put together. As has been said of the first Velvet Underground album, almost no one bought it but everyone who did started a band/became a photographer/changed how they were doing their art. It spawned a movement and changed photography throughout Japan and ultimately the world.

The best and most important art is seldom driven by sales numbers or careerism. It's driven by an absolute need to do the work and to share it with people who you hope might understand or come to understand it. No matter what.
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Old 01-15-2013   #20
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Originally Posted by semilog View Post
^--- Yes. That. Exactly.

If one reads about Daido Moriyama's early years, much of the most important work was distributed through a small magazine that he and a few friends put together. As has been said of the first Velvet Underground album, almost no one bought it but everyone who did started a band/became a photographer/changed how they were doing their art. It spawned a movement and changed photography throughout Japan and ultimately the world.

The best and most important art is seldom driven by sales numbers or careerism. It's driven by an absolute need to do the work and to share it with people who you hope might understand or come to understand it. No matter what.
Nicely said. The world would be a far poorer place, if everything of import in it needed to be commercially viable to exist. Unfortunately the refrain 'it'll never make money/ it's not feasible' is toted far too often as the reason not to do something we want/ something that is important..
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Old 01-15-2013   #21
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Originally Posted by semilog View Post
The best and most important art is seldom driven by sales numbers or careerism. It's driven by an absolute need to do the work and to share it with people who you hope might understand or come to understand it. No matter what.
Yes, that is certainly true. But then even those who choose a more traditional form of publishing can't expect to make any money these days! You're lucky to get a beautifully produced book.

btw, the bill is MUCH lower in Shenzhen than in Verona!
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Old 01-16-2013   #22
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This is not about photo books specifically but interesting nonetheless.
The much-talked-about death of the paper book deemed premature.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...353697002.html
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