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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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Old 07-15-2017   #321
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Agreed...but it is very easy to make a book these days... like a blurb book. It's a pretty cost effective way to print digitally.
I'm a Blurb fan. That's where a lot of my family pictures end up. My point is just to get those pictures in some form where they are easy to recognize as pictures, not some weird metal box with strange connector outlets or some DVD that for some reason doesn't have a label (although I am a fan of large metal boxes with strange connector outlets for the living).
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Old 07-15-2017   #322
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Hi Keith; I have two friends who have lost all their cloud stored images this past year. Both shut down service without notice to customers. One was Yahoo, I don't remember the other. Everything gone.

And I have a mate who's house burnt down a while ago and he lost everything he owned ... anything is possible! lol

God's will as they say!

That said I certainly don't trust the cloud and would never store anything on it ... I read on facebook that the Russians control it all!
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Old 07-15-2017   #323
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And I have a mate who's house burnt down a while ago and he lost everything he owned ... anything is possible! lol

God's will as they say!

That said I certainly don't trust the cloud and would never store anything on it ... I read on facebook that the Russians control it all!
Yeah, from the news here, they control everything. Too bad I'm not a vodka drinker. When they have full control of the film market, will prices and supply go up or down.. and how soon will they gain full control?
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Old 07-15-2017   #324
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I use film because SD cards would look silly stored in my refrigerator.

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Best response yet!!!

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Originally Posted by PKR View Post

At an artist's friends wedding, I brought along a camera. I don't normally do that. He had a wedding photographer who did a fine job. I took a couple of snaps at the outdoor reception and simply put the exposed roll in my friend's jacket pocket before I left. Come to find 10 years later he and his wife have a print of one of my snaps on their bedroom dresser. He said it was the best photo taken of the two that day. This stuff means much more to me than any gallery or work related stuff I've done.
Great story!
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Old 07-15-2017   #325
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Are you using a ball head with your square format camera? I found a standard two adjustment head much easier for me to position with a square format camera.
Yeah, spot on. I use a Manfrotto with a Ball Head. I have thought of a pano to help me with this little problem.
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Old 07-15-2017   #326
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If you have no faith in your photographic skills, you would certainly be too afraid to shoot a wedding on film.
I did a wedding 4 months ago with my Hasselblad 503cx, M3 and M2 Leicas. Only two mistakes out of 390 shots! I was proud of myself.
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Old 07-15-2017   #327
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Why would it be any different with a rectangular format camera? You level a square format the same as a rectangular format.
Composing with my Rolleiflex for example at the horizon can be tricky specially if in a hurry or not spending enough time rectifying the horizon or any flush or perpendicular lines. Sometimes I make the mistake but easily fixed in Lightroom. Best practice is to compose accurately before tripping the shutter. The same is with any format, but square I find it easier to miscalculate. Practice, practice and practice.

Film all the way!
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Old 07-15-2017   #328
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Bill; This is way OT, but just remembered it. I thought I would pass it along, since you're reading this thread.

Long ago, in a piece in Modern, you talked about packing your gear/bag in a dog food bag when riding the subway in NYC. I've used variations on that theme many times after reading of your scheme. I was telling a PJ friend about it years back and he said.. yeah, I know about that trick Pierce pulls. He said, he puts his bag in a cardboard box in the back seat of his car and covers it with dirty diapers. He got some old clean ones from his kid, and a trip to the art supply store completed the look. He said, "No one has ever touched that box", or broken into his car for that matter. .Looking through the car window, you see a box of soiled diapers.
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Old 07-16-2017   #329
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I was wondering why the film/digital topic was still being discussed, but I forgot this is RFF and the thread has digressed...
This thread will last a lot longer: film, and light meter threads always go for pages.

I've enjoyed this thread for the positives in it. Love Bill's link to The Online Photographer (TOP) on digital black and white, and especially Mike Johnston's (TOP) follow up to it the next day. Always more to learn.
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Old 07-16-2017   #330
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I'm sure that's it. Maybe when they become competent, they'll shift to film with all of its convenience. The superiority complex of film shooters is staggering.
Isn't it only a complex when it's subconscious?
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Old 07-16-2017   #331
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Some might find this interesting..
Richard hurt his back and could no longer pack his 8x10 camera equipment. He got a digital camera and now does his own printing. He's the only photographer handled by The Fraenkel Gallery who works with digital cameras (when I last asked). I don't know about Pace - MacGill.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Misrach
.
https://fraenkelgallery.com/
I didn't know this. I've always loved his large format work. Do you know which project or book he has used digital for?
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Old 07-16-2017   #332
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I use film for black and white and alternative processes, and use digital for color. Most of my work is film.


Same here, although I'm not a working photographer. I do volunteer as a photog at my church and that work is all digital. It just makes more sense. Otherwise I enjoy the shooting/processing process of film and do all my personal work on film for the time being. Film makes me slow down and think about what I'm doing. And I also love the anticipation of going through the negs. It's like Christmas every time.
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Old 07-16-2017   #333
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I didn't know this. I've always loved his large format work. Do you know which project or book he has used digital for?
John; it was around, or a year or two before the Katrina Storm. Everything post that period is digital. I think many of his Katrina photos were done with a digital camera - maybe m 4/3 or something small. I think he uses a Phase One for most projects. He did one project recently with an iPhone camera. His bio surely covers this stuff in some detail. We used the same printer for some time. I think it was the printer who told me about his back injury.

From the Wiki link above:

"Returning to the same beach while on vacation in late 2011 with a new digital camera, he began working at the same location but with a different intent and mood: the artist says he was becoming “more comfortable with metaphysical questions,”[11] and the subjects of his 2011 images appear at play and in harmony with nature. The title of the series, On the Beach 2.0, alludes to the fact that the photographs are grounded in their technological moment in time – as do the individual titles, which refer to the date and exact minute of each shot.[22]"

From his Fraenkel bio:

"Recent projects mark departures from his work to date. In one series, he has experimented with new advances in digital capture and printing, foregrounding the negative as an end in itself and digitally creating images with astonishing detail and color spectrum. In another, he built a powerful narrative out of images of graffiti produced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, made with a 4-megapixel pocket camera. In fall 2012, in collaboration with landscape architect Kate Orff, Misrach launched a major book and exhibition entitled Petrochemical America, which addresses the health and environmental issues associated with our dependency on oil."

Some stuff in this piece:
https://photographyforagreenerplanet...chard-misrach/

From the above: "So far the omnipresence of imagery on the internet hasn’t had a huge impact on me. However, digital production has completely changed the way I work and think about photography. I haven’t shot film in almost two years and am now making all of my own prints again (haven’t done that since the 1970’s). Some prints are as large as 10×13 feet!"

The interview was in 2009, so, that puts the change to digital in 2007. Much earlier than I thought. But, I didn't remember when I was told about it, and hadn't thought about it until this thread brought up the memory. I switched to digital for work in 2006. That, I remember vividly.
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Old 07-16-2017   #334
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I didn't know this. I've always loved his large format work. Do you know which project or book he has used digital for?
On the beach 2.0.
The negative images.
At least some of the border pictures.

Represented by P-M...
Stephen Shore (correction...not at P/M, but using digital cameras)
Paul Graham
Todd Papageorge
Richard Benson
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Old 07-16-2017   #335
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Thanks PKR and gns. I always find it interesting when someone goes through a major change. I guess I haven't kept up with his latest work.
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Old 07-16-2017   #336
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Thanks PKR and gns. I always find it interesting when someone goes through a major change.
I think in Richard's case he was forced into it, like many of us. I'm sure he would have liked to move more gradually into digital, as digital was in early stages for his big print work. I had a 16mp Kodak camera in 2006, which was SOTA . If was great for what it was, but.. producing 5 x 10' high resolution prints out of those files was asking a bit much. Anyway, he got into it and is, a master printer to boot.
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Old 07-16-2017   #337
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What is clear is that process matters to artists
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Old 07-16-2017   #338
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I'm lucky. I started in the film days and .... SNIP ...

But I'm rarely asked to shoot film. I'm rarely asked to shoot digital. Delivery is usually in some digital form, but no one cares if it is a digital original or scanned film. I do deliver large prints for some theater jobs, but no one cares whether they are darkroom or computer prints. They evaluate the job by the final result. The last time I delivered large prints for display outside of a theatre, the images were slightly cropped and from an APS-c sensor. It's not what I would do for an architectural job, but I have a feeling that these days some really good architectural photographer is going to see his 8x10 transparency reproduced on some realtor's web site that really short changes the picture's quality. I think more and more that in many cases, as digital improves and film services decline, in the client's mind it doesn't matter what you shoot as long as it does the job.
Got it. That clients do not care if it is film or digital speaks volumes on how far digital has improved. But I agree with you that yes, it shouldn't matter what you shoot as long as it does the job; and it is the professional's job to pick the best method for the assignment, a power most pros have had since long before the film/digital debate. I would think that helps todays working photographer. If the architecture photographer has an 8x10 film camera and has mastered the development and printing process for that format, then by all means use it. That makes good business sense and it best for the client too. If some young pro has an 8x10 digital back or a tilt and shift lens on a digital body, and can get proofs to the client for review in a few hours, then more power to him/her.
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Old 07-16-2017   #339
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I'm a Blurb fan. That's where a lot of my family pictures end up. My point is just to get those pictures in some form where they are easy to recognize as pictures, not some weird metal box with strange connector outlets or some DVD that for some reason doesn't have a label (although I am a fan of large metal boxes with strange connector outlets for the living).
I too find that Blurb is a great way to archive images and with old family photos you can caption them with proper identification.
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Old 07-16-2017   #340
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Quote:
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I'm a Blurb fan. That's where a lot of my family pictures end up. My point is just to get those pictures in some form where they are easy to recognize as pictures, not some weird metal box with strange connector outlets or some DVD that for some reason doesn't have a label (although I am a fan of large metal boxes with strange connector outlets for the living).
Yes, my hard drive situation is not exactly making feel good about the future of my work. When I lived in NYC... I made monthly books of anything I thought could be interesting in the future... a rough edit at least... just to have something printed. Now I live in Chile and I will try to do one every 6 months and edit them down a lot further. This is a pro for film and a con for digital in a way... a box of negatives or slides IS more appealing than a HD to anyone other than the person who made them. However, books have given me a cost effective way to print everything and something that is left behind (if anyone cares).
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Old 07-16-2017   #341
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Yes, my hard drive situation is not exactly making feel good about the future of my work. When I lived in NYC... I made monthly books of anything I thought could be interesting in the future... a rough edit at least... just to have something printed. Now I live in Chile and I will try to do one every 6 months and edit them down a lot further. This is a pro for film and a con for digital in a way... a box of negatives or slides IS more appealing than a HD to anyone other than the person who made them. However, books have given me a cost effective way to print everything and something that is left behind (if anyone cares).
Hi John; Read from the attached link, and print!
https://www.pdnonline.com/features/p...no-sure-thing/
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Old 07-16-2017   #342
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Hi John; Read from the attached link, and print!
https://www.pdnonline.com/features/p...no-sure-thing/
Thanks... loved this: "What’s more, a signed and dated print is the currency of the fine art photographic market, Wilhelm says. “You don’t see people spending $5.6 million for a file.”
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Old 07-16-2017   #343
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Thanks... loved this: "What’s more, a signed and dated print is the currency of the fine art photographic market, Wilhelm says. “You don’t see people spending $5.6 million for a file.”
I don't know how others are about this but, about 50% of the time, I know when I've got a really good picture (I only get a few of these a year). If I'm working with digital gear, and have film cameras near by, I back up the image on film. I often do it with a portrait subject that's important to me. If they are willing to wait a bit, I make lighting adjustments for film and run a roll or two. Most are impressed that I would want to do this and make the time. I make a digital contact sheet of the film takes for them.
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Old 07-16-2017   #344
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I shoot film, usually bulk HP5, because I am a poor person... that said, I shoot Leica, so I’m one of the richest poor people I know. Before I took up photography as a hobby, my photos were all on instagram/iphone 4 camera. It was broken, and I had to find a new way to take pictures. I’ve been amazed at the IQ provided by vintage lenses and cheap equipment; when you’re comparing analog results to shots taken by smartphones (i.e., the majority of photographs I see on a daily basis), there’s no comparison. I have only met one person in Austin with a pro DSLR, and was never impressed by his photographs... the other photographers I’ve met (some have made names/$ for themselves) shoot with whatever they have available....
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Old 07-17-2017   #345
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Here is Michael A Smith of Pennyslvania and Lodima Press on why he does what he does. Worth reading the marvellous piece f11 Magazine (NZ) had on him in their Feb issue last year:

"It does not matter what equipment any photographer uses. Why do I use a large view camera? It is the pleasure in the process. The pleasure in the process is what keeps one going. Artists are interested in making things, not things made."

Love that last sentence. Reminiscent of Barnwulf's signature, the quote form Giacometti:

"I no longer work for anything other than the sensation I have while working."

Like film and want to use a favourite film camera? Do it.
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Old 07-17-2017   #346
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As a person who worked with digital imaging for a number of years, I switched to film for my own use because I vastly prefer the resulting image, not the process itself.

I'll leave it at that - as uncontroversial as I can possibly make my post.

(Edited my post because whoever censored what I originally wrote left part of a sentence that referred to something quite different).
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Old 07-17-2017   #347
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I hesitate to say this, but as a person who worked with digital imaging for a number of years, I switched to film for my own use because I vastly prefer the resulting image, not the process itself.

I'll leave it at that - as uncontroversial as I can possibly make my post.
As one who has also recently returned to film, mainly for its aesthetic, this raises an interesting question for me.

I've noticed that for some reason I value my film images more. If a digital camera produced an identical image, would I feel the same? I suspect not. So I think it's at least partially the process that enhances my perception of value. Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that it's a physical medium.

John
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Old 07-17-2017   #348
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.... However, books have given me a cost effective way to print everything and something that is left behind (if anyone cares).
I've got an Epson P800 and print a lot, but the cost of ink and paper troubles me. I'm considering the book approach instead. Not as nice quality, I'm sure, but you could print a Blurb book for the price on one ink cartridge.

And there's a lot to be said for having a collection under one cover. I think a book mindset would suit my approach to photography.

John
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Old 07-17-2017   #349
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As one who has also recently returned to film, mainly for its aesthetic, this raises an interesting question for me.

I've noticed that for some reason I value my film images more. If a digital camera produced an identical image, would I feel the same? I suspect not. So I think it's at least partially the process that enhances my perception of value. Perhaps it also has something to do with the fact that it's a physical medium.

John
Garbage in, garbage out. Digital images are often low effort, low time, low cost; therefore they are perceived as being low value.

Film images often (but not always) require much more effort, time and cost to capture, process and print; so their perceived value is much higher. Like everything in life, the more effort and time you put into something, the greater significance and value becomes attached to it. It's no wonder many digital photos are considered low value and throw-away.
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Old 07-17-2017   #350
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I've got an Epson P800 and print a lot, but the cost of ink and paper troubles me. I'm considering the book approach instead. Not as nice quality, I'm sure, but you could print a Blurb book for the price on one ink cartridge.

And there's a lot to be said for having a collection under one cover. I think a book mindset would suit my approach to photography.

John
Yeah John, you can still use the P800 for the great photos and make the books for the good ones. My books are editing devices. A way to see my photos in a way other than the screen. They aren't the same as a well done print for sure, but they are their own special object.
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Old 07-17-2017   #351
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I've got an Epson P800 and print a lot, but the cost of ink and paper troubles me. I'm considering the book approach instead. Not as nice quality, I'm sure, but you could print a Blurb book for the price on one ink cartridge.

And there's a lot to be said for having a collection under one cover. I think a book mindset would suit my approach to photography.

John
I find B&W and colour wet printing much cheaper than inkjet. I think the last time I worked it out for colour it was something like 20% of the cost, based on 16 x 12 prints on Fuji Crystal Archive and Kodak RA4 chemicals.
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Old 07-17-2017   #352
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Garbage in, garbage out....
Weak theory. Believe me, I've got plenty of film photographs that can safely be considered garbage. I expect you do, too.
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Old 07-17-2017   #353
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Garbage in, garbage out. Digital images are often low effort, low time, low cost; therefore they are perceived as being low value.

Film images often (but not always) require much more effort, time and cost to capture, process and print; so their perceived value is much higher. Like everything in life, the more effort and time you put into something, the greater significance and value becomes attached to it. It's no wonder many digital photos are considered low value and throw-away.
https://petapixel.com/2012/03/14/wil...on-at-auction/
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Old 07-17-2017   #354
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Garbage in, garbage out. Digital images are often low effort, low time, low cost; therefore they are perceived as being low value.
It depends entirely how you shoot. I shot digital like I shoot film, so I have about the same percentage of keepers.

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Film images often (but not always) require much more effort, time and cost to capture, process and print; so their perceived value is much higher.
But you also say:

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I find B&W and colour wet printing much cheaper than inkjet. I think the last time I worked it out for colour it was something like 20% of the cost, based on 16 x 12 prints on Fuji Crystal Archive and Kodak RA4 chemicals.
Perhaps the issue is your own perceptions of value. Generalizing from you own perceptions is a dodgy enterprise. Faulty generalization is a fallacy of formal logic.
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Old 07-17-2017   #355
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Weak theory. Believe me, I've got plenty of film photographs that can safely be considered garbage. I expect you do, too.
Of course, but that's not the point.

What I'm saying is: no effort in = no value out.

You can apply this to most things in life and it's usually true.
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Old 07-17-2017   #356
jsrockit
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What I'm saying is: no effort in = no value out.
Why do you perceive digital photography to not be making an effort?
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Old 07-17-2017   #357
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It depends entirely how you shoot. I shot digital like I shoot film, so I have about the same percentage of keepers.



But you also say:



Perhaps the issue is your own perceptions of value. Generalizing from you own perceptions is a dodgy enterprise. Faulty generalization is a fallacy of formal logic.
So now I have an issue?! LOL

I can only speak about my own opinion. Who's perceptions and opinion do you use to judge things?
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Old 07-17-2017   #358
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Why do you perceive digital photography to not be making an effort?
Because I've done both, and I found digital photography to be a relatively shallow and effort-free activity. YMMV as they say.

Just my experience and opinion.
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Old 07-17-2017   #359
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I thought this comment was significant coming from the director of Christie's photo department:

"Eggleston has been kind of stuck in the old school world of the photography collectors for a long time, whose primary concerns are about process, print type, print date, etcetera. […] for contemporary art collectors it’s much more about the object itself—they couldn’t care if it’s a dye transfer or a pigment print or whatever, as long as the object itself is totally amazing, that’s what they care about."

The collection of Eggleston's inkjet prints brought in $5.7 million dollars.
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Old 07-17-2017   #360
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Because I've done both, and I found digital photography to be a relatively shallow and effort-free activity. YMMV as they say.

Just my experience and opinion.
That's fair... you can enjoy one over the other for sure. However, there is plenty of fine work done digitally which had required an enormous amount of effort. To do anything well is not easy.
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