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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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Modern photography, the thrill has gone ... not really!
Old 07-01-2011   #1
Keith
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Modern photography, the thrill has gone ... not really!

I thought I'd post this thread in Bill's forum because I've noticed that he tends to open up these types of discussions without really inviting anti digital or pro film rants from those who apparently have to be one thing or the other.

A lot of people seem to resent the time they spend at their computers post processing digital files even though they accept digital as a chosen medium. Occasionally it can piss me off and a year ago I was really wondering if digital was worth the effort because I seemed to be spending an extrordinary amount of time processing files for what seemed to me to be a fairly mediocre output. Part of it was not appreciating the necessity for consistent accurate exposures and not really having a decent understanding of the methodoligy of working with raw files to extract somewhere near their maximim potential. I've still got a long way to go but I do generally feel a lot more confident with digital than I have done previously.

This brings me to the question of why the digital work flow seems to be so unrewarding for some people even though they don't have a problem with the digital image itself ... ie they are not analog zealots and accept that digital is just another medium but really don't enjoy the necessary steps that have to be taken to achieve a decent end result.

I must be crazy (no comments please! ) because I actually enjoy putting a CF or SD card into the reader and downloading a batch of raw files to my computer and as they open up in my chosen software I'm already visually picking out individual images and contemplating what I may or may not be able to do with them with the available skills I currently have. If I spend half an hour or more on a particular file because I can see it has potential even though there are some problems, I get a huge buzz if I can achieve something worthwhile as an end result.

Without this becoming a digital v film discussion, and personally I enjoy both mediums equally, can the digital work flow be genuinely rewarding as a journey to a satisfactory conclusion ... meaning a good image that gives you some sense of pride?

And of course, I'd be very interested to hear Bill's thoughts on this!
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Old 07-01-2011   #2
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I can't get happy about raw files, but I am getting happier with digital files in general.

I still haven't got to a consistent point where I'm as happy as much of my film output, but I think it is just a matter of time-plus no scanning, and no DUST cloning!
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Old 07-01-2011   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Keith View Post
This brings me to the question of why the digital work flow seems to be so unrewarding for some people even though they don't have a problem with the digital image itself ... ie they are not analog zealots and accept that digital is just another medium but really don't enjoy the necessary steps that have to be taken to achieve a decent end result.
I've always thought that they either do not like computers, do not understand computers, or do not understand their software enough to get what they want. To me, it's just like the darkroom.

Quote:
I must be crazy (no comments please! ) because I actually enjoy putting a CF or SD card into the reader and downloading a batch of raw files to my computer and as they open up in my chosen software I'm already visually picking out individual images and contemplating what I may or may not be able to do with them with the available skills I currently have. If I spend half an hour or more on a particular file because I can see it has potential even though there are some problems, I get a huge buzz if I can achieve something worthwhile as an end result.
No different than spending a lot of time in the darkroom...
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Old 07-01-2011   #4
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Both my film output (scanned) and digital end up in Lightroom. I find Lightroom an excellent tool for the type of adjustments I normally do and I quite enjoy the whole process. It is rare that I would spend more than a few minutes on a image, but maybe I am easily pleased
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Old 07-01-2011   #5
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Once I've actually established a "flow", the journey became much easier...

The problem I had with PP digital files is the myriad of things you can do with it. Too many options & too many tweaks to attempt equates to too much time spent in front of a computer. Initially, I'd shoot first & then figure out in PP what exactly it is I want to do with that particular file.

What helped me was to go in a similar mindset when I was using film and establish then & there, at the moment I press the shutter, what my output was going to be like. After this, the challenge is what kind of "flow" do I need to get to my preconceived output... and once that's all figured out, life became easier...
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Old 07-01-2011   #6
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I have never used a darkroom so I do get satisfaction from doing PP on a PC to get the final image. Shooting RAW has eliminated scanning which I did find to be a PITA. I also never had a job that tied me to a PC day in and day out. I can understand someone who is shackled to a PC at work wanting a different approach to getting to a print. So yea I do find the digital workflow rewarding.

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Old 07-01-2011   #7
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I agree with Gid: Lightroom made my digital photography life much easier.

I've done both darkroom and PC processing. Currently, I scan my negatives and print digitally. I never want to go back to the darkroom, honestly. I wasn't a particularly good printer and it was hard to get the results I wanted. Much easier to scan and post process. Then, I get to use the cameras (and medium) that I love without the pain of printing in the darkroom.

Long answer turned short: yes, it is equally, if not more satisfying, to work on my images on the computer, even if they didn't start out digitally.
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Old 07-01-2011   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gid View Post
Both my film output (scanned) and digital end up in Lightroom. I find Lightroom an excellent tool for the type of adjustments I normally do and I quite enjoy the whole process. It is rare that I would spend more than a few minutes on a image, but maybe I am easily pleased

Pretty much the same here, though not sure whither I'm easily pleased or just lazy Most of the time if I'm not happy with the look of an image after a few minutes of processing I figure its not worth the time and effort and go on to one that is
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Old 07-01-2011   #9
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I spend far more time in post with scanned film then digital. With digital it is usually under 5 minutes per file. A lot of that is spent saving the specific sizes for archiving, web and filing with agency. Growing up in the film era resulted in a 'get it right at shutter release' mantra so very little post is needed.

Now caption and tagging is a whole other nightmare!
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Old 07-01-2011   #10
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I think my biggest problem is not being comfortable with PP on the computer. Seeing what others get, I attribute that to my own shortcomings.

That said, I still would prefer darkroom work if I only had the time. I did get fairly comfortable with that, but certainly not expert.
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Old 07-01-2011   #11
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Post processing scanned film is like a bad nightmare when you have a lot of it. I had something like 20 35mm rolls from my last Japan trip and scanning and editing it made me want to never look at another roll of film ever again...

By comparison, digital file PP is easy and quick, especially with lightroom. I do need to upgrade my desktop though... my imac from 2005 is getting a little long in the tooth.
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Old 07-01-2011   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by claacct View Post
Digital killed the thrill of photography because it enabled everyone to take decent photos and that resulted in people being too busy looking at photos they have taken themselves rather than looking at the work of other photographers. What followed is the rise and rise of the amateur and casual shooter and the demise of the talented photo artist who took photos for others to see. As talent goes away or gets averaged by hordes of camera carrying people, so does the quality, artistic standards and the promise of recognition and even financial reward.

There are only two approaches left to photography, you can either bite the bullet and admit what you're doing is useless and will lead to nowhere so you might as well just enjoy the ride, or you can block all the negativity, carry on as before, but that scenario also assumes that one has to be really thick or senile to carry on like that... When everyone from kids to grannies and grandpas can take pictures, then where is the challenge, where is the art and where is the thrill?
Digital enabled everyone to take decent photos? Hahaaaa this must be a troll acount. Thanks for the laugh anyway...
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Old 07-01-2011   #13
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Digital allows one to get custom prints a consumer prices. Take your file, color bal if necessary, , levels and curves so it does not look flat, burn/dodge to your satisfaction and send away for a nice color print.

Some minimal computer skills are required, but you only have to pick up prints, FTP gets the files there. My lab calls when ready for pick up.
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Old 07-01-2011   #14
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Well, as for myself, I'd put it this way:

I like digital, but there are times when I find it hard to sit down at the computer. Lets just say that having to go through several hundred images, pick out the potential good ones, and THEN winnow those down to the final few--which then have to be processed--can invite burnout. Plus, unlike film, because there's really almost no delay between shooting and downloading into the computer, projects tend to pile up fast ( I have four sitting in my computer right now). With film, there was a bit of a breather, given the time lapse in involved in having the film processed.

The other thing about film was that I could scan a sheet of negatives or slides and pick out the ones that looked like winners. Sure, it took a little time to scan them in, but there was nowhere near the overload I sometimes feel doing digital.

Guess it's a case of progress coming with minuses as well as pluses...
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Old 07-01-2011   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by claacct View Post
Digital killed the thrill of photography because it enabled everyone to take decent photos and that resulted in people being too busy looking at photos they have taken themselves rather than looking at the work of other photographers. What followed is the rise and rise of the amateur and casual shooter and the demise of the talented photo artist who took photos for others to see. As talent goes away or gets averaged by hordes of camera carrying people, so does the quality, artistic standards and the promise of recognition and even financial reward.

There are only two approaches left to photography, you can either bite the bullet and admit what you're doing is useless and will lead to nowhere so you might as well just enjoy the ride, or you can block all the negativity, carry on as before, but that scenario also assumes that one has to be really thick or senile to carry on like that... When everyone from kids to grannies and grandpas can take pictures, then where is the challenge, where is the art and where is the thrill?

Replace the word "Digital" with Kodak, Box Brownie, roll film 35mm ext,,, and you pretty much have the history of photography for the last 110 years or so.
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Old 07-01-2011   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by claacct View Post
Digital killed the thrill of photography because it enabled everyone to take decent photos and that resulted in people being too busy looking at photos they have taken themselves rather than looking at the work of other photographers. What followed is the rise and rise of the amateur and casual shooter and the demise of the talented photo artist who took photos for others to see. As talent goes away or gets averaged by hordes of camera carrying people, so does the quality, artistic standards and the promise of recognition and even financial reward.

There are only two approaches left to photography, you can either bite the bullet and admit what you're doing is useless and will lead to nowhere so you might as well just enjoy the ride, or you can block all the negativity, carry on as before, but that scenario also assumes that one has to be really thick or senile to carry on like that... When everyone from kids to grannies and grandpas can take pictures, then where is the challenge, where is the art and where is the thrill?
Where is the art? In the art. There's a lot more to a picture than technical adequacy.

To take another analogy, many more people nowadays can read and write. But not many write well. (Some don't even read well).

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-01-2011   #17
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Quote:
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... can the digital work flow be genuinely rewarding as a journey to a satisfactory conclusion ... meaning a good image that gives you some sense of pride?
The way I see it, if one is going to work digitally or have a hybrid workflow, it is just part of the process. You can't separate pressing the shutter and post processing - either wet or digital - it is part of photography. I like to cook, but I don't like washing dishes - well guess what - it's comes with the territory.

As for digital post processing having anything to do with damaging photography, well that was good for a chuckle. Has anyone watched "America's Got Talent" or been to a karioke bar lately? There are bad singers, poets, musicians, and writers - always have been - we just have more access to their work now. Great work still gets discovered and rises to a larger audience.
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Old 07-01-2011   #18
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My argument is not that film is better than digital, my view is that the technological shift from film to digital opened the floodgates and that swept everything that was aesthetic and aristocratic about photography. With film there were many limitations, from the number of shots and rolls of film to the development, printing and editing. Digital made photography a one step process. People do fool themselves with post-processing but its basically another way of trying to better the folks who're not capable or lazy to post-process, but what they usually produce is HDR-like images that look like screen shots from a Japanese anime movie rather than photos of real life.

An art form cannot exist in a horizontal sphere of mediocrity, it has to be aristocratic and those with talent have to stand out appreciated and followed. That is no longer possible because the very notion of whats an artistic photograph cannot be ascertained due to the sheer volume and similarity of images produced with digital sensors and their linear post-processing software.

This is it, photography as a camera hobby or gear-testing hobby (posting images of brick walls and ISO comparisons) taking pleasure in having the best lens and best body and the rare film camera, that is the only small pleasures left. Photography itself has become as easy and convenient as using a phone, ironically speaking because camera phones are the last nail in the coffin of what we've come to know as still photography.

I don't know what the future holds but I don't think 3D and holograms would be the same.
Naaah, still don't agree. Why do you do anything you're not paid for? For the pleasure of doing it, and in order to do as well as you can at it. Where is this 'similarity' of which you speak? Surely, if technique is less of a concern, then the artistic skill of the photographer can shine through all the more, and the 'false artist' (the technique freak) will be shown up as an example of the Emperor's New Clothes.

And if you are being paid for it, there are all kinds of other things to consider: understanding a brief (including mind-reading), delivering on time and on budget...

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-01-2011   #19
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"When everybody's somebody, then no-one's anybody". Gilbert and Sullivan, The Gondoliers.

The same thing happened with writing when the word processor came on the scene. Rather than speculate on whether 1,000 monkeys with 1,000 typewriters could come up with the complete works of Shakespeare, we could actually watch the experiment.

The problem is not that there will not be any artistry. The problem is that there's so much junk around that it is much harder for the good stuff to get noticed. Not impossible, but harder. The noisiest and most flamboyant output gets attention, with a the result that there's less appreciation of the quiet and subtle.

I welcome the speed and ease of digital processing. But when I scan some of my old black-and-white negatives, I am keenly aware of qualities they have that digital capture doesn't. I'm also grateful that I can get those qualities out more easily--it was much harder in the wet darkroom

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Old 07-01-2011   #20
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There are bad singers, poets, musicians, and writers - always have been - we just have more access to their work now. Great work still gets discovered and rises to a larger audience.
Good point. We now have writing (poetry and prose), singing (in genres as different as karaoke, folk music and local bands); and there's even professional vs. amateur sport. What else?

Good point about washing the dishes, too.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 07-01-2011   #21
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Quote:
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An art form cannot exist in a horizontal sphere of mediocrity, it has to be aristocratic and those with talent have to stand out appreciated and followed. That is no longer possible because the very notion of whats an artistic photograph cannot be ascertained due to the sheer volume and similarity of images produced with digital sensors and their linear post-processing software.
I agree about the volume thing to a certain extent. There are still huge differences between poor, average and excellent photographers but the latter somehow always manage to float to the top. Links and references from other viewers on the internet can spread the word very quickly. The "good" photographers still get found.

Quote:
...Photography itself has become as easy and convenient as using a phone...
True, volume has gone up exponentially but the vast majority are just snapshots. Those of us who take photography a little more seriously still strive (and struggle) to improve and agonize over individual shots and what we might have done differently. On balance, for me--shooting digital--I find my photography to be more enjoyable and rewarding than it was, say, 30 years ago...
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Old 07-01-2011   #22
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"Frankly speaking I can't even stand people with cameras anymore, its reminds me of my own foolishness."

so, claacct, why are you posting on this forum?

i think the answer is obvious ...
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Old 07-01-2011   #23
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Slightly off topic, but in answer to some of the comments here.

What is more important, the image or the process?

Digital in the music world allowed those with no playing ability to produce music that otherwise would never have been heard because they did not have the technical skill. That didn't mean that their music was bad - in some cases it was and is very good. It was the idea that was important, the end product and not the process.

The same can be applied to photography. If you have an "eye", the current technology allows you to realise your vision. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so.
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Old 07-01-2011   #24
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I've been wrestling with the same issue, Keith. If at all possible, I wait a week or so to edit my photos and that seems to help me. I don't know why that makes the editing process more fun for me but it does.
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Old 07-01-2011   #25
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@ Gid
I don't believe your comment is off topic at all. I agree that there are more options for accomplishing one's vision. I also think that is what gives rise to much of the bickering we all witness from time to time - we lack a certain tolerance for those whose vision or genre preference differs markedly from our own. For example, I really don't care for youtube style video. Oh yes, I watch video every day, and in the previous example of documenting and publishing breaking news such as the courtroom example, it's great and probably the best medium. My point is that I never return to watch a video more than once. I will however, return to view still images over and over again in order to enjoy the emotional experience they stimulate.

Part of the "pleasure/ satisfaction" of post processing depends on our experience and background. I am comfortable with computers because I work with them daily so PP digitally is not intimidating or dificult. On the other hand, I am just learning how to develop B&W film. I did it as a youngster but never really took it seriously. Now, as I try to produce better negatives, I find myself sometimes frustrated - just because of inexperience and lack of familiarity. I rely on those who have been at it longer to help me along.

That's the great part of a place like RFF - it allows us to share experiences and expertise with one another.
Sorry if I drifted and rambled some - I am getting older you know...
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