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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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Time
Old 01-19-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
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Time

At its best Time Magazine was the largest circulation news publication in the business. Faltering in the internet era it had less circulation than Time Inc’s People magazine. At the end of last year it was sold to Meredith Corp. backed by the Koch brothers. Time sent me around the world, paid me well and even gave me an office although I was a contract free-lance. That was a long time ago. Look now how they treat photographers.

https://petapixel.com/2018/01/19/tur...rated-content/
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Old 01-20-2018   #2
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Yep, things have changed. The newspaper I worked at for 15+ years was once the second largest in the state with several daily editions covering a huge circulation area. It had a staff of hundreds, including advertising and printing. Pay was never great but it was adequate and there were opportunities for freelancing with the wire services and various national and international publications. That was in the 70's and 80's. Gannett owns the paper, the presses were sold, the building was sold, the local staff is in the single digits and operate from a downtown office. Daily editions are a few pages of poorly edited copy and canned photos, circulation is a fraction of what it once was. I expect the whole shebang will be dead in a few more years since it no longer serves a useful purpose and Gannett has sold off the assets. At least I have a few good memories and a pitifully small monthly retirement check from them (that I had to fight like hell to finally receive). Thankfully I got smart at the turn of the 1990's and moved into a different career before the axe began to fall so badly on the whole industry.
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Old 01-20-2018   #3
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Let me guess, they treat them as any company would treat any employer if sales are not good?
Something between less perks given in Bill's time and get fired ?
The reality is - here is no need in magazines and newspapers anymore. Modern society has become news and magazine self-sustained. Mobile phones, self-writing, FB and twitter, plus search engines.
Perhaps it is just me, but old fashion magazines and newspapers were very primitive. Now with information available from unlimited amount of less dependant and individual sources all you have to do is to think and be more open. Search, read, watch on-line. Turn on TV and find less dependant, less manipulating channel, programm, commentator. Talk to your neighbors, it is not like it was before. People are from different places, they look and act diffrently, but if you are open they will talk you.
At least this is how it works where I'm. But perhaps here is still this lonely rancho somewhere and they still need to decorate thier low table with something which looks smart, like Time magazines.
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Old 01-20-2018   #4
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It always makes me chuckle when people keep blaming the market when they're not getting paid jobs anymore. The market is the market. In this age of information/content overflow you have to be exceptionally good and hard working or be very good, hard working and provide value in exchange for the exposure = not getting paid. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I wouldn't consider Time to be the exposure one might be wanting but being a journalist in 2018? Suit yourself.
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Old 01-20-2018   #5
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The rise of other 'independent' sources, inevitably leads, in many cases, to 'fake news' or at best, questionable work. wrt: photography - there is a chain of responsibility photojournalists adhere to such that there can be no question as to the work's veracity. The average Joe doesn't necessarily follow these principles and thus the erosion of truth starts with a few grains of sand and pebbles.

People with regular 9-5 jobs, taking work for low pay, or access, is part of the problem. If they actually looked at their CODB, they wouldn't survive. Bean counters are only part of the problem.
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Old 01-20-2018   #6
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In Canada we still have choice because of the internet, radio, independent broadcasters, less corrupt politicians, activists and even some newspapers. I see it more in Russia, were news are made fake for two decades now. It is next to North Korea now. And in USA for decades. Remember Colin Powell holding poison chemical from Irag? It was fake and on CNN.

9 to 5 isn't much regular job anymore where I'm in Canada. It is the blessing and privilege. Low pay is 9 to 9 multiple jobs to be able to live after all taxes are paid. And I see people like this looking at their mobile phones. It is not the real, independent news or any news most of them are looking at. It is about Hockey like games or Kardashian like fake personalities. I knew people like this and I knew 9 to 9 working Canadians who knew often something what is almost taboo on biased mass media. But those are usually self-employed.
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Old 01-20-2018   #7
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Quote:
Time sent me around the world, paid me well and even gave me an office although I was a contract free-lance. That was a long time ago. Look now how they treat photographers.
Good for you but I suppose that you also remember the very many other photographers, including local stringers, who were paid peanuts for their work.
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Old 01-20-2018   #8
Bill Pierce
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
Good for you but I suppose that you also remember the very many other photographers, including local stringers, who were paid peanuts for their work.
Peter -

All of us, including uncontracted free lancers that would ask or be asked to cover events in the the area where they lived (I presume that's what you mean by "local stringers.") were paid exactly the same day rate, owned our pictures and could resell to anybody except directly competing American news magazines. But no magazine would depend on freelancers always being available, any time, any place. The contract photographers were guaranteed a certain number of work days each year. In turn, they didn't work for the direct competition, they stayed in close contact with the magazine and accepted assignments that often involved a great deal of travel away from their homes and, occasionally, danger. "Local stringers" were paid exactly the same day rate plus expenses as the contract photographers, just not as often.
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Old 01-20-2018   #9
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I am confused...so you are saying that, at that time contract photographers had the same benefits and were making the same money as stringers?
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Old 01-20-2018   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Peter Wijninga View Post
I am confused...so you are saying that, at that time contract photographers had the same benefits and were making the same money as stringers?
Yes, the day rate was fixed, and everybody got the same day rate plus expenses. However, the contract photographers were guaranteed a minimum number of days per annum. Different contract photographers were given different guarantees.
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Old 01-20-2018   #11
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Anyone see "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" a few years back? Turned out to be an entertaining and not too bad movie (considering it was a Hollywood mainstream offering - sorry, my prejudice but one based on years of being disappointed by Hollywood). In it Walter is not a photographer but is a "photo assets manager" (i.e. someone who managed the filing of negatives) at Life (not Time but similar) and was being royally screwed over when the company was being restructured. I could not help but think it had close parallels with reality. It had the ring of truth (well anyway that aspect did) given many such publishers were being pressured by the digital world, social and commercial realities and soon to be defunct. Anyway the scenery and cinematography is pretty cool and well worth watching by photographers (they had to make it good given the film was partly about a magazine whose reputation rested ion part on its photojournalism.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HddkucqSzSM
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Old 01-21-2018   #12
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Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Yes, the day rate was fixed, and everybody got the same day rate plus expenses. However, the contract photographers were guaranteed a minimum number of days per annum. Different contract photographers were given different guarantees.
Thanks Bill Pierce for bring this to our attention. Equal wages in those days - seems like the work of unions.

Journalism and photo journalism are just like most professions with artistic or humanistic content in today's world. They have suffered from the transition from more protected and regulated markets to the global market. Everything is centred on the WWW, where cheap user-provided content or hastily put together pieces have displaced quality journalism: we are back to the earliest days of mass media: yellow journalism, nickelodeons and dime novels = in today's terms, the loss of journalistic standards and crappy user-provided videos. Standards are falling because companies are unwilling and unable to pay for quality. Media has been subject to the same cheapening process as all industries - cheap clothes, cheap transportation . . . necessitated by low wages. The market for higher quality journalism is also shrinking because education, including and especially higher education, is itself a tool of the massive world wide consumption machine for cheap goods.
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Old 01-21-2018   #13
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Originally Posted by traveler_101 View Post
Thanks Bill Pierce for bring this to our attention. Equal wages in those days - seems like the work of unions.

Journalism and photo journalism are just like most professions with artistic or humanistic content in today's world. They have suffered from the transition from more protected and regulated markets to the global market. Everything is centred on the WWW, where cheap user-provided content or hastily put together pieces have displaced quality journalism: we are back to the earliest days of mass media: yellow journalism, nickelodeons and dime novels = in today's terms, the loss of journalistic standards and crappy user-provided videos. Standards are falling because companies are unwilling and unable to pay for quality. Media has been subject to the same cheapening process as all industries - cheap clothes, cheap transportation . . . necessitated by low wages. The market for higher quality journalism is also shrinking because education, including and especially higher education, is itself a tool of the massive world wide consumption machine for cheap goods.
Yesterday I started to post something similar to this. You put it much better than I.
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Old 01-21-2018   #14
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Two years ago I was in a local gas station on Sunday morning and there were people there offering a chance at free gas if I would tell them where I bought my Sunday paper.
I told them I had not bought a Sunday paper in decades. Turns out they were representatives of Chicago Tribune, the last decent circulation paper in Chicago.

I told them I would not buy news that is incomplete , slanted, or simply not reported.
They looked totally astonished that customers could see through the plot. Well we can and that is why most papers are in failure mode. They think the answer is online subscription, but the content is the same. So not that won`t work .

Ten years back I was a guest a a Midwest Professional Photographers Meeting. The guest speaker was one of the recently fired photogs of the other chicago paper. He went through how hard he and the others work to get publishable shots, aching back, always on duty, etc. It is not the photogs fault. It is paper management or the real owners who are not in the publishing business, but political business.

So now we are finding our way around the mass media. Not perfect, but getting better.
Now opportunities for pro photogs are getting more and more limited.

Remember Look and Life magazine? They were great photo magazines. Today you can not find a decent news mag in a doctors office. Check out you library. None there either.

I have not been to a movie in 20 years. Got tired of swearing, shooting and violence. Hollywood is off the wall and I will not support it.

Life moves on I guess.
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Old 01-21-2018   #15
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Do folks appreciate a crafted photograph anymore? Or are snaps just fine?

When I had my business and a potential client was wanting to hire me for a low price (it’s their budget) I would recommend they take that amount of money and use it to buy a digital camera and have your relatives and friends take photographs with it for your wedding memories.

Whew, happy I got that out! And I’m very happy I’m retired!
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Old 01-21-2018   #16
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Remember Look and Life magazine? They were great photo magazines. Today you can not find a decent news mag in a doctors office. Check out you library. None there either.
What you are decrying is the diminishment of photojournalism. My doctor's office has scores of home, fashion, and food magazines with multiple photos on every page. Most are very accomplished. So there is a market for photography, just not photojournalism, because everyone with a cellphone can supply those types of images for free, and in a more timely manner. Those images can appear on a news organization's website before their own photographer arrives on the scene.
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Old 01-21-2018   #17
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There is so much crap, at least my definition of crap, photography. I see it all over the internet.
And photography forums are no exception.
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Old 01-26-2018   #18
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Bill,

Saw this, and feel it relates to the conversation we've been having.

https://www.poynter.org/news/goodbye...thanks-nothing

I would love to see all the "Contributor Networks" get destroyed. So sick of hearing, "We can get images from people (contributors) for free, why should we have to pay for them. These iPhone pics are good enough."

"Thank you for giving us these images for free, think of the exposure you'll be getting."

As a buddy of mine told me when I was starting out, "The only exposure you're getting is exposing the fact that you value your work so little that you'll give it away for free."

Not that I'm bitter.

Best,
-Tim
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Old 01-26-2018   #19
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I'd rather keep my work to myself then give it away for free for someone else to use for their personal gain (with the exceptions of friends and family). If I choose to give a friend a print for free, I consider it a gift. I feel bad for those of you that do photography for a living, are great at what you do, and have to compete with people who give stuff away. The editors are to blame as well for accepting lesser work simply because it is free. I only make photos as art, so for me... long term projects and trying to get the work noticed later is the only way I can even hope to get exposure. Being part of the news cycle does nothing for me.
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