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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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Questions about Life magazine print by Eugene Smith
Old 10-08-2016   #1
jim_jm
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Questions about Life magazine print by Eugene Smith

Bill -

Just saw the Eugene Smith Jazz Loft documentary and thought it was great. Thanks for the heads-up here on RFF!

This got me to thinking about some questions I have had for awhile about a Gene Smith print I purchased several years ago of the "Spanish Wake" image. I haven't been able to track down any more insight about it, so I thought if anyone had any knowledge, it would be you.

I bought it from a local gallery that was working with Life magazine to sell off their physical print archives. They also had images by Robert Capa, Eisenstadt, Bourke-White, among others. But Smith is my favorite photographer and when I saw what was documented on the back of the print, I couldn't pass it up. Attached are images of the back of the print (it's been matted with a plexiglass backing), and of the front (shot at an angle to avoid reflections).

My understanding is that this was called a "press print", which was a working print kept on file until needed for an issue of Life or some other publication or book. Like a library book, it is stamped with the date and name of the publication when checked out, and must be returned to the Life archives when done. My print is creased and has some scuffs, so it's definitely not museum quality. But it's the documentation on the back and the historical record of where this piece of paper has been that's of value to me. I don't think this is signed by Smith, as nothing on the back appears to match his signature.

To get to the point, my questions are:
- Would Life magazine have had several prints of this image in their archives? I would think so in case one was damaged or lost.
- It's written on the back that this print is from a copy of the negative. I had read that Gene would work on his final approved version of the print, and then that print would be photographed to create a "master copy" negative. This negative would then be kept by Life to make new prints if needed by their staff printers. Do you think this would have been the case here?
- I'd like to hope this was the print used in the 4/9/51 issue of Life, when the Spanish Village story was first published, and it is marked on the back with that date several times. However I recall the gallery owner stating she thought this print was made in '61, but wasn't positive.

In any case, thanks for your time, expertise and any answers you can provide. It's much appreciated!

Also, if any RFF members have anything to share or contribute, please do!

Thanks,

Jim Martin
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File Type: jpg Smith_print_front_sm.jpg (21.4 KB, 71 views)
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Old 10-09-2016   #2
Bill Pierce
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There is an easy way to see if it is a copy print. In the original frame some of the children have their eyes closed. Rather than keep on shooting with a bounced flash in an obviously delicate situation, Gene chose to stop shooting. With Spot Tone and bleach he created "open eyes." This retouch is slightly different in several of the prints from the original negative. But if your print surface doesn't show the Spot Tone and bleach, it is from a copy negative. So it is probably a copy neg print. As to who make the copy neg? Probably the Time-Life lab. They were good at it, but so was Gene. As to whether the info on the back makes the print more valuable, I think it certainly makes it more interesting. Howard Greenberg, who I think of as running one of the finest photo galleries in the world, thinks so and purchased a number of prints like yours from T-L. When they started to clean out their files, they also sold some prints of my work. The difference... I wasn't staff. They didn't own the pictures and didn't have the right to sell prints, only to sell publication rights.
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Old 10-11-2016   #3
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Thank you for the information, Bill. I really appreciate it!

Great to see you in the Jazz Loft film as well!
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