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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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On The Road
Old 05-03-2016   #1
Bill Pierce
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On The Road

I’ve been on road for a long time, and it’s made me wonder how folks deal with cameras when they are flying. In the “old days” a generous tip to a Skycap and sturdy Pelican and Haliburton cases solved the problem of checking gear on domestic flights. Many of the airlines themselves went out of their way to help photographers, making foreign travel a lot easier. Today things aren’t so good.

If I can’t carry equipment on board, my tendency is to FedEx it before I put it in the hold of the airplane. I’m not so much afraid of damage as loss - the gear and I arriving at different times or different airports. Most of the time I can get an amazing amount of gear on the plane in a backpack or a wheeled Halliburton along with a small camera bag that will fit under the seat. And, of course, my jacket pockets are filled. But I would love to hear any techniques that fellow travelers have developed.
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Old 05-03-2016   #2
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Rollaboard with the gear and changing of undergarments. Toothpaste and deodorant (in travel-sizing, of course!).


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Old 05-03-2016   #3
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i spent (and spent) a good deal of time on the road. eventually i switched over to compacts and carry on is part of my travel constitution. i can spend 2 months on the road with one bag. personal items, cameras, laptop and bgan (when needed).

takes some sacrifice in the fashion/comfort department but well worth it.
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Old 05-03-2016   #4
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Not to put too fine a point on it, but I no longer travel outside the USA (except to Canada, which my state borders with) and I don't go anywhere unless I drive there. No trains, no planes, only automobiles.

I traveled for a living for seven long years, and saw a good portion of the world via the US military before that. In the post-911 era, I'm done. No more baggage thefts, no more being made to feel like a criminal or being patted down whilst wearing socks and holding up my pants with one hand.

I have the greatest respect for those who still travel, I am sure it takes quite a bit. I have chosen not to do it anymore. My longest trips every year are 1200 miles to Texas to see my daughter and granddaughter, and that's by car.
Immanentizing the eschaton since 1987.
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Old 05-03-2016   #5
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I'm in the "take less" camp. It's really easy to fit one M camera and two M lenses plus 20 odd rolls of film in most any carry on bag with most of what else you need for a week or two away. For longer trips, I wash.
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Old 05-03-2016   #6
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I too am finding myself driving more and more. Just too big of a hassle getting the gear on planes. Need to cover a week in Cleveland and in Philly this summer, and though it would be nice to just fly to each, bringing too much gear and just simpler to pack the bags in the trunk as opposed to an airplane.

About ten years ago I was using the Pelican route, TSA locks on everything. Too many times I had issues with security opening cases and not closing them up properly. Then I tried to put everything EXCEPT my cameras & laptop under the plane, and the cameras & laptop onboard in carry on with me, but that wasn't satisfactory either.

So now, if I have to take a lot of gear, I drive. If it's too far to drive and I have to fly, I take a very light package (Nikon 1's & iPad mini instead of D4's and laptop). Not a solution I'm real thrilled with.

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Old 05-03-2016   #7
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Take only what you can carry. Shame the word has has caused all this trouble.
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Old 05-03-2016   #8
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I normally spend 2-4 weeks in Hokkaido every winter...

So in addition to the camera equipment I have winter wear including two pair of snow boots... it's tight ; )

3-4 days of changeable clothes and laundry soap... most hotels there have a washer/drier either free or small fee... pack the equipment the same as most here... F3P with F3HP backup and the X100T, film, lenses, laptop, go carry-on (it's a domestic flight). All cables, filters, flash, chargers, batteries (except "spare" Lithium batteries), and tripod go checked baggage...

I also carry enough oatmeal for 15-30 x breakfast... banana and yogurt purchased on-site... all check-in under 20kg...

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Old 05-03-2016   #9
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I fly a fair bit - every couple of weeks domestically, and a couple of times a year between Aus, Malaysia and Europe.

For domestic flights and trips to Malaysia I almost always fly only with carry-on. As well as the security issues, as a frequent flyer I just can't be stuffed waiting around in queues to drop off and collect luggage. Being able to walk straight in and straight out matters. It's also nice not to have luggage to cart around when you reach your destination.

Usually, if I'm travelling for fun, my photography gear will be limited to what I can fit in a Hadley Small - M2, couple of lenses, GR and a bunch of film.

The only real issue I've had is that Australian domestic flights have started regularly weighing carry-on baggage in the last 6 months - so 7kg really is 7kg...
Ricoh GR II | Pentax MX & LX | Leica M2 | Spotmatic SP F | Minolta Autocord | Olympus 35RD

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Old 05-03-2016   #10
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I have the pelican that is carryon sized and haven't had any trouble with the exception of one little airline in South Africa. They had a weight limit. I don't remember the numbers but my gear was just about twice the allowed weight. That and a very small back pack that will fit under the seat and a travel jacket works pretty good.
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Old 07-10-2016   #11
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I fly to Central America fairly often from New York. I don't know how much camera gear you all are carrying, but everything photo related goes with me, and everything else gets checked. I'm just a hobbyist though, so I don't carry more than a few bodies and 2-3 lenses (no telephoto).

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Old 07-11-2016   #12
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Another non-working shooter here. I seldom fly anymore. When I do fly, I go with a minimum of stuff. The last time I flew I carried a couple of DSLRs and three zooms that covered all necessary focal lengths. The DSLRs were standard "prosumer" models and the zooms were not high speed pro models, everything was plastic but good quality. Cameras and lenses fit in a rolling tote bag along with the usual carry-on items--change of underwear/socks, medications, iPad, batteries and chargers, etc. The bag was small enough to put under the seat in front of me even on the smaller commuter aircraft but large enough for necessities. I carried a small Domke bag flattened out inside the checked bag. Now that I'm using Fujifilm equipment more and more, I expect the load will be even lighter next time.

When I see the amount of stuff working pros carry these days, I'm thankful I'm retired.
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