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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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Print or screen...
Old 04-11-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Print or screen...

Part of the previous discussion on Leica rangefinder cameras turned to the ever popular and somewhat overworked discussion of film versus digital. To me, the important difference is not film versus digital but between the image printed on paper and the image on a screen - movie theatre, television or computer.

The print is fixed in its tonal range, brightness and contrast; the screen is not. The difference a widely distributed motion picture will see in screen brightness can be a problem. At least television sets and computer screens have brightness controls. But anyone who has photographs on line and has taken the time to look at those on both their own computer and the computers of friends and associates knows that there can be a great difference in the tonality from screen to screen. Those differences are unintentional. No one set out to change your picture into a high key study or a film noir, a cold tone or a warm tone; it just happened.

A lot of pictures are content oriented. No big deal (well, maybe a little deal) if they are dark or light or harsh or flat on somebody else’s computer screen. Hey, it’s still us on our vacation. Other pictures, not so much…

So, for a lot of photography, I like to deal in prints rather than screen images, sending out small prints as postcards and larger prints as gifts and having a house that is filled with boxes of prints and framed prints hanging on almost every available wall space (none in the kitchen or bathrooms). Once again, I don’t think the big difference is between film cameras and digital cameras. Both can produce printed images and screen images. I think the big difference is print or screen.

As always, your thoughts…
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Old 04-11-2018   #2
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Dear Bill,

Yes, it always makes me laugh when people ask us to decide, from a tiny screen image, whether they used a Version 1 or Version 2 Summicron, let alone a Canon or Nikkor or whatever. Print/screen is indeed The Great Divide,

Cheers,

R.
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Old 04-11-2018   #3
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We have more than 150 years of actual experience how printed photographs deteriorate, and it's not bad at all. My ancestors' photographs look a lot better than many books of the same vintage (cue: 2nd half of 19th century books very often have acid in the paper!).

I've read recently that scientists in archival institutions found out that high quality prints will last some 500 years (IIRC), properly stored negatives probably more than 2000 years (again, IIRC).

So, if one wants something reliable and sustainable, then it's a print (from a negative ).
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Old 04-11-2018   #4
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I’m not averse to screen images; in fact, unlike most on this forum, I learnt my craft initially with a digital camera, coming to film much later. And my snapshots to this day remain digital only (but backed up in named, dated folders whose location - along with other important files - is noted in my will).

That said, I feel a photograph is, in most instances, “done” only when it’s printed. There’s no logic to that, of course: I just prefer a tangible, physical image, in the same way that I prefer a well-designed and printed book to an ebook in most instances.

I suppose, for me, it boils down to whether I perceive something simply as content - i.e. information - or as something more, when I appreciate it as a physical object where content is just one component.

So, if I’m looking at one of my snapshots or reading a novel or a workshop manual, I’m solely interested in content: the medium is then immaterial, excepting that it needs to convey the information as effectively as possible - online/phone/tablet photo album, kindle ebook, PDF text file, etc. In contrast, my art photographs always end up as gallery-quality prints and in photobooks:

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Old 04-11-2018   #5
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How you light the print—spotlight, diffuse light, the color temperature of that light, etc—also changes the tonalities that a print exhibits. Metamerism can also shift the color of the print, and the colors in a color print. Inks, silver halide deposition, etc, can all change over time as well depending on the quality of the paper, the ink, the processing, and the storage and handling that the print is subjected to. Prints made with a halftone screen process, as in books and magazines, have their own issues with tonal reproduction and range.

For these reasons, the comparison of print vs screen is a complex subject. We should not pose overly simplistic generalizations for sake of obscuring the realities of photographic technology. Few things are so simple as to say that one is simply better than the other...
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Old 04-11-2018   #6
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I also like to give away prints and our home computers desktops are photos slideshow.
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Old 04-11-2018   #7
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I prefer prints for myself due to the look and also not having a decent sized high pixel density screen of my own, so the prints in my case appear higher resolution. However, the portability of having images on my phone to show people and ease of distribution of digital images is a real advantage in actually showing people things. As an example I can post images here and those that are interested can have a look or comment. With prints, it feels like more of an imposition on someone's time as I don't have many other options than "here, have a look at this". I usually have a 10x8 print pinned up at work in a plastic sleeve but I don't have much scope to hang photos at home. Print exchanges are good fun though.

For those of you that send out prints as gifts/postcards, I like the idea but I'm always concerned about the potential white elephant aspect of it. Although most of my peers grew up with prints, like many people they've gone fully digital, using facebook or keeping their photos on their phones. I'm not sure how many would actually appreciate receiving a print over seeing a scan of it, even if a small print.
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Old 04-11-2018   #8
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No long after I discovered my love of photography I set up a darkroom in my apartment bathroom. I loved the look of a printed photograph. I learned the craft by reading all the photo magazines and books available at the time and looking at pictures...mostly looking closely at the printed pictures. So, from my perspective the goal is the print.

But I admit that I do a lot of my looking at photos today on a computer screen. That's where the access to information is located and I'm always hungry to learn more about photographers and their work. But despite the overwhelming amount of photography displayed, I honestly don't see a lot of new work online that appeals to me. Generally I like to discover a photographer previously unknown to me whose work I like and then I locate a book or two of their work. It still comes down to the printed picture for me.

I'm not a great printer but there's something totally enjoyable to me about printing a photograph on high rag content paper with pigment based inks. The use of materials with roots that predate the history of photography combined with modern technological instrumentation is kinda awe inspiring to me. I don't get that from the screen.
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Old 04-11-2018   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carriage View Post
...
For those of you that send out prints as gifts/postcards, I like the idea but I'm always concerned about the potential white elephant aspect of it. Although most of my peers grew up with prints, like many people they've gone fully digital, using facebook or keeping their photos on their phones. I'm not sure how many would actually appreciate receiving a print over seeing a scan of it, even if a small print.
I make prints and create books as well as show work on screens in various forms. Prints that I give away range from postcards and notecards to exhibition sized prints. I've never seen any indication that anyone who received a print as a gift or card found it a bother—most seem to be delighted by them. Several have surprised me by having every card I made and sent them, over the past couple of decades, all formatted together into a presentation album. A couple of the folios (sets of 8 to 12 printed images on 8.5x11 paper) I gave as gifts have taken apart and all the prints matted, framed, and hung. That to me is a massive compliment!

So I wouldn't worry about it too much. People like prints... nearly all people. :-)

G
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Old 04-11-2018   #10
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I like to print, but mostly in book form. I don't mind looking at my own photos on a screen... or even my friends who don't print. BUT, I do prefer looking at books or prints on a wall. It just feels more special to me.
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Old 04-11-2018   #11
Bill Pierce
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
How you light the print—spotlight, diffuse light, the color temperature of that light, etc—also changes the tonalities that a print exhibits. Metamerism can also shift the color of the print, and the colors in a color print. Inks, silver halide deposition, etc, can all change over time as well depending on the quality of the paper, the ink, the processing, and the storage and handling that the print is subjected to. Prints made with a halftone screen process, as in books and magazines, have their own issues with tonal reproduction and range.

For these reasons, the comparison of print vs screen is a complex subject. We should not pose overly simplistic generalizations for sake of obscuring the realities of photographic technology. Few things are so simple as to say that one is simply better than the other...
I’m one of those people who takes a light meter to a gallery and looks at his prints or the prints of his friends under the same candlepower and light type before they get hung. But that’s probably a bit extreme. Most prints look good under a variety of continuous spectrum sources and most galleries do not use fluorescent lights. Metamerism is less of a problem with today’s inkjets than it used to be. And, while time can takes it toll on a print, there are certainly the materials, processes and storage techniques that are available to any interested photographer who wants to minimize the problems. All the issues you point out are real, but they can be dealt with relatively successfully. I sometimes think that photographers are often ahead of museum curators in that department. And Henry Wilhelm is ahead of us all.
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Not a simple one or the other
Old 04-11-2018   #12
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Not a simple one or the other

I can't see this as a simple one or the other. Obviously we are not talking about standing in a gallery and choosing to look up at one print hanging on a gallery wall or looking down to see the same image as a JPG on the laptop they are holding in front of them.

There are great advantages to the classic print on a gallery wall. I still love to do those exhibitions. But my photos are to communicate information. The number of people around the world who will see those on my website 24/7/365 is many orders of magnitudes greater than those who will walk into a specific gallery where my prints are hanging for 30-45 days.

The classic nature of prints hanging on the wall does impose limitations of not being able to also include music or audio words to reinforce the image. Nor does it give the ability to sequence different images in cohesive presentation.

So each presentation method has advantages and disadvantages. One method works better for some photography, the other for other photography.

My often used example is Alex Webb's "Crossings" body of work about life along the US / Mexico border. I own the book. I have seen the prints in a gallery. But my favorite presentation is his narrated slide show at the Magnum in Motion website.
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Old 04-12-2018   #13
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Prints offer two significant advantages.

1. A print is a thing you can hold in your hands. A quality print can last a long time.

2. The photographer and, or print maker has complete control over the aesthetics of a print. A digital image's aesthetic is determined by the factors behind the photographer's control. A magnificent rendering can be degraded by inadequate display software and uncalibrated display hardware.
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Old 04-12-2018   #14
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Prints, please. Specifically, a nicely sequenced book.
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Old 04-12-2018   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
... All the issues you point out are real, but they can be dealt with relatively successfully. ...
And in exactly the same ways—by checking the displays/screens/etc that will be used and preparing them and the images appropriately—the issues of screen display can be dealt with relatively successfully.

There's no difference really, all of this stuff depends upon creating the correct display environment for the image. All of it is critical, print or screen, if you want to be critical.

G
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Old 04-12-2018   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Michaels View Post

The classic nature of prints hanging on the wall does impose limitations of not being able to also include music or audio words to reinforce the image. Nor does it give the ability to sequence different images in cohesive presentation.
I don't understand this comment. I spend a lot of time sequencing my images for exhibition. As far as music and audio words, I am a photographer and not a multimedia artist. I think both detract from a photographic exhibition. I really dislike photographic websites with audio. They are annoying.
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Old 04-12-2018   #17
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Photographs are like paintings. There's not substitute for standing and taking a good long look at a well-presented, hand produced masterpiece. Until you've done so, there's no real frame of reference. No reproduction, electronic or offset, will ever match the real thing.
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Old 04-12-2018   #18
Peter Wijninga
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Prior to the digital age, prints were the exception. Grandparents would go to the village photographer on special occasions. During the sixties, there was one uncle who had a camera and would take occasional family pictures and print them. I experienced the non-digital phase and was lucky to gather a large amount of printed pictures. All in all, the printed pics win... I have them in a photo album which I can pass on to the next generation.
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Old 04-12-2018   #19
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Quote:
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................. I spend a lot of time sequencing my images for exhibition.
I do as well. Ain't it a bitch when someone enters the gallery and turns left instead of right so the first photo they see is the closing you selected to leave a lasting impression. And the last photo they see is the one you selected to set the stage for what they are about to see.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
As far as music and audio words, I am a photographer and not a multimedia artist. I think both detract from a photographic exhibition. I really dislike photographic websites with audio. They are annoying.
You should, as everyone should, partake in what they enjoy and define themselves and their work as they choose. I tend to define myself as a communicator of ideas that cause people to think and react. Photography seems to be no more than the communication tool that works best for me. Supplemental information such as audio and extended text captions help in my personal goals. I accept that others had different objectives.

It is not a simple universal one or the other situation but depends on many factors including the objectives of the presenter, just as I said in the first sentence in my original comment.
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Old 04-12-2018   #20
Bill Pierce
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Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
And in exactly the same ways—by checking the displays/screens/etc that will be used and preparing them and the images appropriately—the issues of screen display can be dealt with relatively successfully.

There's no difference really, all of this stuff depends upon creating the correct display environment for the image. All of it is critical, print or screen, if you want to be critical.

G
I'm not sure why, perhaps because the computer is now so much a part of our life, its display settings are taken for granted. Everything you say is dead on, but I don't see a lot of folks dealing with this on their home computers. I've see some of my images on several friends or associates home or office computers and the tonality was not only different from what I saw on my computer, but they were different from each other. I certainly wish there was some effective standard. When you can control the computers there is uniformity and high quality. From my experience, when you can't, it's often a mess.
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Old 04-12-2018   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
Prior to the digital age, prints were the exception. Grandparents would go to the village photographer on special occasions. During the sixties, there was one uncle who had a camera and would take occasional family pictures and print them. I experienced the non-digital phase and was lucky to gather a large amount of printed pictures. All in all, the printed pics win... I have them in a photo album which I can pass on to the next generation.
There is no question that both prints and screen displays of photographic work have their place in the world. Why does all of this have to be placed as "in the digital age" or not?

Most of the albums of the previous generation in my family were lost due to one thing or another. Whenever I find some of the scraps left over, I scan them and distribute the images to everyone in the family—as both prints and as image files suitable to be displayed on smartphones, tablets, or display screens. More will survive into the next generation now because the images are in more than one place.

G
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Old 04-12-2018   #22
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Quote:
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Prior to the digital age, prints were the exception.
I think that prior to the digital age, prints were the rule not the exception. Mini labs at the drugstore and mall?
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Old 04-12-2018   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
Prior to the digital age, prints were the exception. Grandparents would go to the village photographer on special occasions. During the sixties, there was one uncle who had a camera and would take occasional family pictures and print them. I experienced the non-digital phase and was lucky to gather a large amount of printed pictures. All in all, the printed pics win... I have them in a photo album which I can pass on to the next generation.
Dear Peter,

Surely "the rule".

On-screen images were REALLY rare, and prints were a lot more common than projected slides.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 04-16-2018   #24
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Here's a brief article that points out some of the advantages of prints. It's worth a glance.

https://www.thephoblographer.com/201...s/#more-114791
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Old 04-16-2018   #25
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I like the idea of print AND screen.

Scanned split grade print of a 35mm negative on ADOX MCC 110.

Erik.

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Old 04-16-2018   #26
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That's a nice article, but most of the benefits are described in terms of the pleasure printing and prints bring to the photographer. I agree with all that. There's nothing like handling and viewing a nice print.

But in terms of sharing your work, the web can't be beat. (Not that anyone ever looks at my stuff online. ) So I agree that both formats are wonderful.
It is not an either/or proposition. You can do both. The issue is a false dichotomy.
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Old 04-16-2018   #27
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Quote:
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The print is fixed in its tonal range, brightness and contrast;
The viewing condition is not.
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Old 04-16-2018   #28
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I didn't read the 35 VF thread and ordered OM 35 VF. It came, I looked into to it and has wrong proportions and crappy quality. But. Seller put as the gift small new empty photo album for kids. This weekend was ice storm with advisory not to travel. I printed photos for this album with trusty Epson C88+ and gave it to our daughter as her first own photo album.
It made both of us happy...
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Old 04-19-2018   #29
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In my opinion and to me personally the process is not complete until there is a print.
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Old 04-19-2018   #30
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It comes back to the same old issue, nearly impossible to get to get a commercial source to print the file perfectly, not just commercially acceptable. Certainly possible to get a decent $20 8x10 print.

Put them on line and few have calibrated monitors .
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