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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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Speaking for myself-
Old 02-08-2017   #41
DwF
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Speaking for myself-

and as someone who likes to see the world with my camera, the "street" is a path that is ever changing in subject, light, and energy all of which might facilitate my engagement as a photographer. The "subject matter" is ancillary to the process or activity which drives the passion for photography. As in other art forms, or love for that matter, ownership is an illusion.

David
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Old 02-09-2017   #42
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It is still a statement I find true. Winogrand said about the same thing in the video piece I posted. But I guess some need categories to put things in. I prefer to just look at the work and I either find it interesting or not or I prefer to just work and let those that need categories do their thing.
I think we are approaching Bill Pierce's question from different ends. I agree with you, from the photographer's point of view there is little or no value in adhering to someone else's rules of demarcation. You are right, Winogrand is a case in point. I suppose Winogrand may have had to defend himself numerous times against accusations that he is not a proper street photographer . You know how such criticism goes: The frames are tilted (shock!), the composition all wrong, ugly American cars shouldn't be included in the pictures (not classy enough), and so on. In the end you throw the towel and you say sod street photography. What one is doing is just photography and if it doesn't fit someone else's criteria then too bad.

But look at it from a viewer's perspective. Categorizing work may be interesting, illuminating even. I am thinking of some kind of intelligent or explanatory categorization and not whether you shoot TriX or Leica or you print your photos with borders as you wear a feathered boa and your best dress. Some time ago I was reading a catalogue from an exhibition on a few well-known post WWII American street photographers. The curator made the simple claim that they were united by a common sensibility. Shooting with flash or not had nothing to do it. Nor was the fact they were all photographing in B&W (I mean, what else at the time) particularly relevant. What mattered was that they were exploring aspects structuring social experience and they were constructing a personal vision of these experiences in the aftermath of the war. That's obviously not a definition but rather a description that bundles together work in a way that is informative about what was going in their heads. I certainly don't think I came worse off reading it. And that's the kind of categorization that I as a viewer (to speak just about myself) may be interested in.

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Old 02-09-2017   #43
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I think it's detrimental to both creator and viewer. Like Winogrand asked would zoo photography be more appropriate for his zoo work? So we will have to agree to agree to disagree. I find both Adams and Winogrand to be on the money with their words. And what I've found to be true over the years is why I agree.
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Old 02-09-2017   #44
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No, zoo photography wouldn't be more appropriate for Animals. I think that follows from what I wrote. But fair enough.

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Street photography
Old 10-14-2017   #45
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Street photography

My somewhat tongue in cheek response to the problem of defining street photography is that it brings to mind the worst aspects of modern 'safeguarding', a term used in British schools for protecting children and the vulnerable from abuse.

In the summer I was taking a photo of a large building in a rural setting. There was a small lane and pavement between it and me. I didn't have in mind a genre or label - I was just trying to make a nice picture. Had I a label I suppose it would have been 'scenic' or possibly 'architectural'. Anyway, I waited with camera lowered while a youngish mother and her child on a trike approached and went out of frame in front and to one side. I raised the camera and as I was about to take the shot she changed direction to walk in front of my lens and rudely tell me she didn't like people taking pictures of her children.

I resisted the urge to say anything rude back but, looking back, I know that at that moment my rural picture - had I taken it - would have become 'street photography' with all its concomitant edginess and sometimes discomfort! But that is the beginning of a whole different conversation.
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Old 10-14-2017   #46
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From his web site:


“Go to a public place without your ego and record what is special there with integrity and bring it back to us and say “This is what I saw” and sometimes, just occasionally, everyone will agree, it’s a diamond.”

To my way if thinking, “street photography” is a term for candid, unposed photographs of people. Wouldn’t photography at other venues qualify as suggested by the above quote?

I’ll suggest a couple:

Photography made at a party, like a wedding reception. Lots of unposed photos can be made.

Other places beside the street, how about a gathering of folks for a running event for a cause?

Or just a gathering of people perhaps at a place like a restaurant?

To me, street photography = unposed photographs of people engaged in something other than with the photographer.
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Old 10-15-2017   #47
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What did they call it when there were only dirt roads?
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Old 10-15-2017   #48
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What did they call it when there were only dirt roads?
Cameras didn't exist
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Old 10-15-2017   #49
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Terms like street photography can serve a limited purpose, but, at the same time, can be problematic. If I go to a show and tell a friend about it, I might describe it as street photography to give him some idea of the work, but that might also influence his expectations and experience of the work.

Take a look at the pictures made by Anthony Hernandez on the streets of L.A. with a 5 x 7 camera in the late seventies. Are they street photographs? Land(city)scapes? Portraits? One of the great things about them is that they challenge this kind of pigeonholing.

http://www.americansuburbx.com/2011/...reas-1975.html

Anyone know what 2 prominent photographers penned these nearly identical statements?...

“… pigeonholing photographs and photographers is responsible for many misunderstandings about photography. What photograph is not a snapshot, still life, document, landscape, etc.?
Whether the photographer be Edward Weston, with view camera on tripod, or Robert Frank, with 35mm Leica in hand, or the maker of family album photographs, he only makes still photographs. Regardless of the equipment used or the difference in time the equipment requires, the process is always the same. This process is Perception (seeing) and Description (operating the camera to make a record) of the seeing.
Neither snapshot, document, landscape, etc., are descriptions of separate photographic aesthetics. The is only still photography with its own unique aesthetic. Still photography is the distinctive term”.


“Whether the practitioner uses small, medium or large format equipment, or whether his concerns and interests are botanical, animal or folks, landscape or street life, etc., the only relevance is the photograph itself. The pleasures of good photographs are the pleasure of good photographs, whatever the particulars of their makeup”.
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Old 10-15-2017   #50
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The pleasures of good photographs are the pleasure of good photographs
True. And leave to anyone else to put a label on it.
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Old 10-15-2017   #51
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Quote:
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Terms like street photography can serve a limited purpose, but, at the same time, can be problematic...

Anyone know what 2 prominent photographers penned these nearly identical statements?...

“… pigeonholing photographs and photographers is responsible for many misunderstandings about photography. What photograph is not a snapshot, still life, document, landscape, etc.?
Whether the photographer be Edward Weston, with view camera on tripod, or Robert Frank, with 35mm Leica in hand, or the maker of family album photographs, he only makes still photographs. Regardless of the equipment used or the difference in time the equipment requires, the process is always the same. This process is Perception (seeing) and Description (operating the camera to make a record) of the seeing.
Neither snapshot, document, landscape, etc., are descriptions of separate photographic aesthetics. The is only still photography with its own unique aesthetic. Still photography is the distinctive term”.


“Whether the practitioner uses small, medium or large format equipment, or whether his concerns and interests are botanical, animal or folks, landscape or street life, etc., the only relevance is the photograph itself. The pleasures of good photographs are the pleasure of good photographs, whatever the particulars of their makeup”.
The second quote is by Friedlander. Amazingly the punch line manages to say it all without saying anything at all. It's also a title of a good Badger book. The first quote sounds like Papageorge maybe. I wonder.

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Old 10-15-2017   #52
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The second quote is by Friedlander. Amazingly the punch line manages to say it all without saying anything at all. It's also a title of a good Badger book. The first quote sounds like Papageorge maybe. I wonder.

.
Correct on second quote being Friedlander. And yes, Badger lifted the title of his book from that quote. The first is from Winogrand.

Both statements are from the same publication: a 1974 special Aperture issue titled, The Snapshot Aperture. Both photographers had work featured in the book, but also included these statements which read pretty much as a disclaimer to the books premise of a snapshot aesthetic within photography.
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