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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”  

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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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Gene Smith
Old 10-04-2016   #1
Bill Pierce
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Gene Smith

Here’s a clip from a press release that may interest some of you. There are some good people who put a lot of effort into this. It’s a very worthwhile project that you can check out this weekend.


“FilmBuff will release THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH on all major On Demand platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu, on Friday, October 7.
The film, a follow-up to Sara Fishko's Jazz Loft Radio Series, as well as author Sam Stephenson's book, The Jazz Loft Project, brings hundreds of photographs by LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith to the screen for the first time, as well as some of the 4,000 hours of audio he recorded. "We're still not sure exactly what Gene Smith was trying to create in the loft," said Fishko. "But he did remarkable work there, and his pictures by the tens of thousands and stacks and stacks of audio tape reels tell us things about community, music-making, obsession and art that we couldn't learn in any other way."
The film was written, produced and directed by Sara Fishko, edited by Jonathan J. Johnson and photographed by Tom Hurwitz, ASC. Producers include Calvin Skaggs for Lumiere Productions and Sam Stephenson.”
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Old 10-04-2016   #2
Dogman
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Interesting. I'll have to check into this. I was just thumbing through the Roy DeCarava Retrospective earlier today and enjoying his photos of the period's jazzmen. Great stuff.
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Old 10-04-2016   #3
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W Eugene Smith was the reincarnated Paul Gauguin for the rest of the 20th century.
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Old 10-04-2016   #4
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W Eugene Smith was the reincarnated Paul Gauguin for the rest of the 20th century.
ha, exquisitely put!

no one framed sound or light in such an uncompromising way

thank you bill
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Old 10-04-2016   #5
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I've been hoping to hear some of these tapes, especially combined with the images from the sessions. Thanks, so much, for the heads up.
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Old 10-05-2016   #6
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I saw a review of the film in the Times a couple of weeks ago, and went looking for when it might show up in a theatre (I don't bother with the streamers). Good news is, it will be screened in Seattle at the NW Film Forum on October 26. Bad news (for me) is that I'm on a flight out of town that evening! Hope it is released on DVD.
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Old 10-05-2016   #7
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I saw the exhibition "Jazz Loft" at Lincoln Center years ago. It disturbed me. I could not get around why a celebrated photographer of such fame and reputation abandoned his family and lived in near destitute conditions.

I presented this disturbance to Louis Mendez in conversation. In the late 50's Louis was very young but he had the opportunity to hang out with Gene during that time of the Jazz Loft.

Louis explained to me that Gene became disturbed because the work he did involving Pittsburg was rejected. I did some more research and discovered that Gene kinda got blacklisted because he wanted/demanded editorial control over his work. On one hand Gene threw away his career and his life, but on the other hand he had his freedom.

Anyways W.Eugene Smith was a great shooter and a great printer. I find this downturn very sad, and it still disturbs me.

Cal
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Old 10-05-2016   #8
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I've been hoping to hear some of these tapes, especially combined with the images from the sessions. Thanks, so much, for the heads up.
Totally agree
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Old 10-06-2016   #9
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I've been hoping to hear some of these tapes, especially combined with the images from the sessions. Thanks, so much, for the heads up.
Its a pity these can't be put up online for people to hear, isn't there some US government library of this sort of thing? This sounds well exciting though look forward to seeing it and enjoying some fine new to me audio recordings.
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Old 10-07-2016   #10
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Its a pity these can't be put up online for people to hear, isn't there some US government library of this sort of thing? This sounds well exciting though look forward to seeing it and enjoying some fine new to me audio recordings.
Why on earth would the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund trustees give Smith's intellectual property away for free?
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Old 10-07-2016   #11
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Downloading from iTunes, looking forward to watching. Thanks Bill.
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Old 10-07-2016   #12
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Just saw this. Thanks for the information. W. Eugene Smith has been a favorite of mine since I really got into photography in the mid-70s.
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Old 10-07-2016   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calzone View Post
I saw the exhibition "Jazz Loft" at Lincoln Center years ago. It disturbed me. I could not get around why a celebrated photographer of such fame and reputation abandoned his family and lived in near destitute conditions.

I presented this disturbance to Louis Mendez in conversation. In the late 50's Louis was very young but he had the opportunity to hang out with Gene during that time of the Jazz Loft.

Louis explained to me that Gene became disturbed because the work he did involving Pittsburg was rejected. I did some more research and discovered that Gene kinda got blacklisted because he wanted/demanded editorial control over his work. On one hand Gene threw away his career and his life, but on the other hand he had his freedom.

Anyways W.Eugene Smith was a great shooter and a great printer. I find this downturn very sad, and it still disturbs me.

Cal
well said, cal. i think his heart simply broke from others' insensitivity toward the beauty he saw, heard, and recorded.
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Old 10-07-2016   #14
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well said, cal. i think his heart simply broke from others' insensitivity toward the beauty he saw, heard, and recorded.
Mike,

My heart aches.

Gene to me is a photographer's photographer. He was a master of image capture (shooting), used all kinds of cameras, and was highly regarded as a printer.

I can totally understand the fascination with control he had. The missing piece was editorial control. It is maddening.

I kinda understand. That is why I work a day job so at least I can control what I do with photography.

Cal
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Old 10-07-2016   #16
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jamie, apart from some individual photos and his essays, i think the only one is The Big Book, published a few years ago in a very limited printing, but i'm not sure.
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Old 10-07-2016   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calzone View Post
Mike,

My heart aches.

Gene to me is a photographer's photographer. He was a master of image capture (shooting), used all kinds of cameras, and was highly regarded as a printer.

I can totally understand the fascination with control he had. The missing piece was editorial control. It is maddening.

I kinda understand. That is why I work a day job so at least I can control what I do with photography.

Cal
cal, appreciate the insight. anyone capable of the range from his war photos to minamata to the one of his children emerging from the woods, of somehow knowing the value of capturing the sessions at the jazz loft (4000 hrs of tape!), and what he sacrificed to make them all, wasn't made for this world. i hope he rests in a peace as profound as the pain he must have felt while he lived. we're so fortunate he worked among us.
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Old 10-07-2016   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Calzone View Post
Mike,

My heart aches.

Gene to me is a photographer's photographer. He was a master of image capture (shooting), used all kinds of cameras, and was highly regarded as a printer.

I can totally understand the fascination with control he had. The missing piece was editorial control. It is maddening.

I kinda understand. That is why I work a day job so at least I can control what I do with photography.

Cal
Yes -- what you said.

Bill: Gene and Minor White were two of the primary inspirations that propelled me into photography. The common gestalt of these two giants touched my core.
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Old 10-07-2016   #19
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Can anyone recommend good books of Smith's photographs?
Jamie - a good comprehensive overview of his work is "W. Eugene Smith Photographs 1934-1975" by Mora and Hill. A fairly big book with some text, but a lot of photos.

A smaller book, but also very good, is Aperture's book on Smith. There are also some other good books out there if you look on Amazon.

If you want a thorough biography of his life, I'd recommend "W. Eugene Smith - Shadow and Substance" - a very good read.

If you like Gene's style of B/W photography and printing, I'd also recommend looking into Dave Heath, who recently passed away. He was a bit younger than Gene, but was highly influenced by him. I'm just reading "Multitude, Solitude" now. Beautiful reproductions of his prints.
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Old 10-07-2016   #20
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Jim and MC, thanks for the book recommendations. The only Smith book I have now is the "Dream Street... Pittsburg Project". I'll look around for some of your recommended's. And Jim, I also have the Dave Heath book... beautiful!

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Jamie - a good comprehensive overview of his work is "W. Eugene Smith Photographs 1934-1975" by Mora and Hill. A fairly big book with some text, but a lot of photos.

A smaller book, but also very good, is Aperture's book on Smith. There are also some other good books out there if you look on Amazon.

If you want a thorough biography of his life, I'd recommend "W. Eugene Smith - Shadow and Substance" - a very good read.

If you like Gene's style of B/W photography and printing, I'd also recommend looking into Dave Heath, who recently passed away. He was a bit younger than Gene, but was highly influenced by him. I'm just reading "Multitude, Solitude" now. Beautiful reproductions of his prints.
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Old 10-08-2016   #21
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This is the book I have which I'd highly recommend.

Let Truth be the Prejudice: W. Eugene Smith - His Life and Photographs
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Old 10-08-2016   #22
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Watched the film last night. Highlights for me, beyond smith himself, music segments monk/overton collaborating, zoot sims. His son's segments were understated and insightful. smith's printing techniques were very interesting. Entire film is worthwhile. And our modest forum host appears as well.

Like his WWII work, like Minamata, his 7-8 years in the loft cost him physically and mentally. Everything outside of his art he seems to have gradually abandoned - his family, his health, his means, his relationships - except for his work. Much like some notable jazz artists of the period. Well worth viewing.
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Old 10-16-2016   #23
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I downloaded the video last week and finally got a chance to watch it this morning. Thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you're into 50's jazz and Smith's photography (I am).
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Old 10-17-2016   #24
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I think no one has mentioned one of my favorite sites: http://www.jazzloftproject.org/
The last time I was there, they had recordings of a radio show derived from the loft recordings, and it's wonderful.
Here they are: http://www.jazzloftproject.org/?s=radio
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Old 10-17-2016   #25
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thanks for the site tip - truly wonderful, yes!
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Old 10-17-2016   #26
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You'll find extensive commentary on Eugene Smith's life and work in: Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History: The Story of the Legendary Photo Agency Paperback – October, 1999 by Russell Miller
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Old 11-18-2016   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Here’s a clip from a press release that may interest some of you. There are some good people who put a lot of effort into this. It’s a very worthwhile project that you can check out this weekend.


“FilmBuff will release THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH on all major On Demand platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu, on Friday, October 7.
The film, a follow-up to Sara Fishko's Jazz Loft Radio Series, as well as author Sam Stephenson's book, The Jazz Loft Project, brings hundreds of photographs by LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith to the screen for the first time, as well as some of the 4,000 hours of audio he recorded. "We're still not sure exactly what Gene Smith was trying to create in the loft," said Fishko. "But he did remarkable work there, and his pictures by the tens of thousands and stacks and stacks of audio tape reels tell us things about community, music-making, obsession and art that we couldn't learn in any other way."
The film was written, produced and directed by Sara Fishko, edited by Jonathan J. Johnson and photographed by Tom Hurwitz, ASC. Producers include Calvin Skaggs for Lumiere Productions and Sam Stephenson.”
Bill, you didn't mention that you're in this film. Bravo. The whole thing was very well done and I found it fascinating. Thanks for giving us the heads up.

Best,
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