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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 02-13-2013   #81
Steve Bellayr
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Keep in mind that 10 years ago I was buying LPs in mint or near perfect condition for as low as 4 for a dollar. At the same time I found it was difficult to locate a turntable. Today, LPs are $2 each at thrift stores and all the high school kids buy them. Second and Charles sells the LPs for even more, sometimes up to $30 each for newly issued. Turntables at all levels are readily available. Maybe, all is not lost.
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Old 02-13-2013   #82
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Keep in mind that 10 years ago I was buying LPs in mint or near perfect condition for as low as 4 for a dollar. At the same time I found it was difficult to locate a turntable. Today, LPs are $2 each at thrift stores and all the high school kids buy them. Second and Charles sells the LPs for even more, sometimes up to $30 each for newly issued. Turntables at all levels are readily available. Maybe, all is not lost.
I agree. It's funny, turntables and cartridges are at an all time high as far as quality, and vinyl LPs are dirt cheap. Once you pick up a decent record cleaner machine, life is good. See www.audiogon.com for great deals on all kinds of analog equipment.

Maybe nothing ever dies.
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Old 02-13-2013   #83
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I had my half-yearly dental cleaning today. Sometime between the last one and this one, the dentist's office had switched over from analog (film) to digital x-rays. As more of that happens, that further undermines the consumer analog photography infrastructure/supply chain, since medical radiography, like Hollywood movie-making, was another unseen (to mass consumers) big chunk of supporting demand.

Digital oral x-rays, by the way, strike me as a bit icky. Everyone chomps down on the same bite-wing sensor. Yes each patient gets their own disposable plastic-film sleeve wrapped around it, but I do still hope they're cleaning these with alcohol every so often. Quick Googling seems to indicate these sensors cost about $5000 (?!), so they'll have to save a lot of film/chemistry to break even, and hope that nobody's kid bites down hard and destroys one.

--Dave
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Old 02-13-2013   #84
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Originally Posted by RBruceCR View Post
I still have two bulk rolls of TMax 100 and 400. Now the issue is going to be when will they stop selling chemicals to develop!
The basic chemicals used in film processing are also used for industrial processes that have nothing to do with film. This is true for color and BW negative. Those chemicals will be available for a very long time. If there is demand, someone will package them for film development. They could become rather expensive (though I doubt it), but the required chemicals will be sold.
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Old 02-14-2013   #85
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I guess what he means to say is that it's the digital camera that comes closest to mimicking film, thereby evoking emotion like film does.
Is it really mimicking film? what did film mimick then?
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Old 02-14-2013   #86
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I'm taking my first bulk roll of TMax 100 to the photoshop to fill the reusable cassettes right now!
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Old 02-14-2013   #87
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Originally Posted by robklurfield View Post
Is it possible that Winogrand was sloppy and liked to proscratinate? That he liked being outside shooting better than he liked going through file drawers? Did he maybe find the task of sorting through all that stuff -- 2,500 undeveloped rolls -- kind of daunting? Wouldn't you? And, anyway, what's wrong with that? He did produce a rather staggering and very fine body of printed work. Do you think that maybe he had hoped to live past the age of 56? What would any of us leave behind in life if our number came up prematurely like that? Is Vermeer less of a painter because we only know of a small quantity of finished canvasses? Did Gary maybe prefer shooting to printing? Who knows?
Winogrand was a major figure in popularizing street photography, he inspired many and produced many images. That is it.
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Old 02-14-2013   #88
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Originally Posted by Calzone View Post
Your assumption about digital is not the case either. Tomorrow I get delivery of a Leica Monochrome. Already bought an Epson 3880 to take advantage of a $250.00 rebate. This weekend I intend on buying a fully loaded 15 inch Mac Book Pro with Retina Screen. Just completed building out the room for my digital studio that involved about $1K in furniture. A NEC 721W with spectraview is about $1.5K, but that will have to wait.

Also no debate film verses digital: to me they are two separate mediums. And yes I know that photography is a demanding activity because I take what I do very seriously, but also know that the only person I need please is myself. No need to impress anyone else.

Cal
Hopefully you got delivery of your M Mono. Now you will have a more involved photography experience because you can see the results right away. But of course there is no reason you cannot carry a film camera as well and combine the best of two... There is too much of either/or mentality in photography these days.
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Old 02-14-2013   #89
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A more involved photography experience because he can see the results right away? That sounds like it could go straight on a marketing brochure. I fail to see how ability to chimp helps one become an innately better photographer. It doesn't work that way.
I think he meant that it's just easier to see them after you photograph because you can process them that night on your computer (as opposed to developing film and then printing). Also, the person who that comment is directed towards (Calzone) has a huge backlog of film to print, so the comment was regarding the fact that digital will be more immediate for him to see his results.

Chimping? That a personal thing... it's neither bad nor good unless you let ego come into play.
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Old 02-15-2013   #90
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Originally Posted by upceci View Post
Hopefully you got delivery of your M Mono. Now you will have a more involved photography experience because you can see the results right away. But of course there is no reason you cannot carry a film camera as well and combine the best of two... There is too much of either/or mentality in photography these days.
Thanks. The Monochrom is a very practical camera for me, and it does seem like Leica especially designed this camera especially for me.

Just know that I still intend on shooting as much film as I can, and that a light table is plenty good for me to do a "rough cut" as far as editing is concerned. I'm exceptionally good in inverting a negative into a positive in my mind, and never made contact sheets. Also I like seeing the negatives in 50-60 roll batches after a delay. Something to be said for seeing the images much later with fresh eyes.

Cal
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Old 02-15-2013   #91
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Originally Posted by clayne View Post
A more involved photography experience because he can see the results right away? That sounds like it could go straight on a marketing brochure. I fail to see how ability to chimp helps one become an innately better photographer. It doesn't work that way.
To add to jsrockit's reply which clarified my post, I should also add that chimping is a term coined by sports photographers because in their line of shooting constant concentration and always being ready to grab the moment is essential -- chimping can be a negative habit for those people. For amateurs and casual shooters to use such terms like chimping only makes them look uninformed and pro-wannabe.
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Old 02-15-2013   #92
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Originally Posted by Calzone View Post
Thanks. The Monochrom is a very practical camera for me, and it does seem like Leica especially designed this camera especially for me.

Just know that I still intend on shooting as much film as I can, and that a light table is plenty good for me to do a &quot;rough cut&quot; as far as editing is concerned. I'm exceptionally good in inverting a negative into a positive in my mind, and never made contact sheets. Also I like seeing the negatives in 50-60 roll batches after a delay. Something to be said for seeing the images much later with fresh eyes.

Cal
I have not used the M Mono but I'm sure its a great camera. In my own personal experience of shooting film and digital, I have to say for me the end result really did not warrant shooting film anymore. And I was shooting B&W only. Things as small as limited frames, changing film, inconsistent development and exposure, not to mention scanning really did not justify for me the trouble of film. I'm not lazy, I'm just careful where I allocate my energy and resources... But another factor that put me off from shooting b&w itself was its ubiquity. Today people turn an image into b&w because its color version does not appeal to them. to me this has been a major reason why i slowly lost interest in b&w shooting. Digital is the current medium and i'm one of those people who's more interested in today rather than the past or the future.
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Old 02-15-2013   #93
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I'm not lazy, I'm just careful where I allocate my energy and resources...
Exactly how I feel.
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Old 02-15-2013   #94
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Originally Posted by upceci View Post
I have not used the M Mono but I'm sure its a great camera. In my own personal experience of shooting film and digital, I have to say for me the end result really did not warrant shooting film anymore. And I was shooting B&W only. Things as small as limited frames, changing film, inconsistent development and exposure, not to mention scanning really did not justify for me the trouble of film. I'm not lazy, I'm just careful where I allocate my energy and resources... But another factor that put me off from shooting b&w itself was its ubiquity. Today people turn an image into b&w because its color version does not appeal to them. to me this has been a major reason why i slowly lost interest in b&w shooting. Digital is the current medium and i'm one of those people who's more interested in today rather than the past or the future.
Thanks for the explaining a good point: in particular "end result." Perhaps this is where you and I differ. I make negatives for wet printing, and perhaps the density is too much for many scanners. Also know that I always intended on printing big, and that I also shoot mucho medium format.

My intent is/was to stay 100% analog, image capture became the priority, and as a result of mass repetition I get very consistent results. Someone I deeply respect who shoots large format looked at one of my 6x9 negatives stated, "With negatives like these you don't need a 4x5."

Now with the Monochrom nothing really changes, except that I am learning a totally new medium. My intent is to become a good digital printer, and my approach is digital is a separate medium. At this point I must be very humble because digital is all new to me.

Cal
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Old 02-15-2013   #95
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I have not used the M Mono but I'm sure its a great camera. In my own personal experience of shooting film and digital, I have to say for me the end result really did not warrant shooting film anymore. And I was shooting B&W only. Things as small as limited frames, changing film, inconsistent development and exposure, not to mention scanning really did not justify for me the trouble of film. I'm not lazy, I'm just careful where I allocate my energy and resources... But another factor that put me off from shooting b&w itself was its ubiquity. Today people turn an image into b&w because its color version does not appeal to them. to me this has been a major reason why i slowly lost interest in b&w shooting. Digital is the current medium and i'm one of those people who's more interested in today rather than the past or the future.
Highlight 1: Why were your development and exposure inconsistent? These are not difficult to master.

Highlight 2: Scanning? Well, that's why I still have a proper darkroom.

Highlight 3: So are many of us. Which is why many of us still prefer film.

Highlights 4/5: So is film. If you can't handle/don't like film, fine, but at least allow those of us who prefer film to insult you the same way you insult us.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-15-2013   #96
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The invention of digital photography was a godsend to people who want their photography to be easy, with little or no physical effort or cerebral involvement.

Some of these ''enlightened'' souls even say that oldtime human judgements like exposure evaluation and focussing are best left for onboard electronics to sort out, as they ''get in the way'' of artistic appraisal and impede the immediacy of the decisive moment .. (!)

And as for spending hours in smelly darkrooms, no way, Josie !

I take some comfort in the knowledge that there are still a goodly number of other die-hard film users out there who feel as I do - that we live in an increasingly spoon-fed, computer-led world, and we're all the poorer for it...
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Old 02-16-2013   #97
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There's one thing a digital camera/workflow absolutely needs that using film does not.......electricity. With the recent debacle surrounding the cruise ship that lost power for 5 days I'll bet the images produced by the people on board dwindled drastically during the last couple of days due to dead batteries. I can't imagine many people (if anyone) were using film in their cameras. (Not that we may want to see what was going on during the last couple of days)
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Old 02-16-2013   #98
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Bob,

The way to big and heavy Nikon D700 would easily last 10 days with two OEM batteries. This assumes one is reasonably selective and wouldn't run around the ship pressing the shutter indiscriminately. It also assumes limited chimping, not using an IS lens and judiciously using the flash. Documenting the onboard experience for five days without AC power would be easy, but it would not be fun!

I just paid $51 for a portable USB charger. This unit is as about the size of a portable hard drive. It will charge an smart phone/tablet a couple of times. Again, with thoughtful use fortaking photos for five days without access to AC power would not be a problem.

During 5 years of switching to digital I ran low on batteries once. I ended up using live-view mode for five hours and I had planned for three. I finished the gig with about 15% of my third Nikon battery left.

It would be easy for an inexperienced person to kill their camera batteries the first day. Running out of film may or may not be an issue too.

I prefer using a film camera to a digital camera. This would be especially true for large format film compared to a DSLR. But battery technology has developed to the point where battery life is not an issue.
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Old 02-16-2013   #99
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Hello willie_901,
I've been out in very cold conditions shooting with a D7000 and had both my batteries die within the day, frustrating to say the least. I tried keeping the battery "not in use" warm in my pocket but eventually they were both useless as well as the camera and lenses I was carrying around and I wasn't near a power source. At that point I retrieved my M6 and a couple of lenses and finished my work. The extreme cold conditions weren't in the forecast and I expected more out of the batteries. I will have to make further investment in batteries and equipment in order to have the capabilities the M6 and couple of lenses gave me that day. (I always carry plenty of film where ever I go, it's relatively cheap and light weight insurance and I can't leave the M6 at home ))
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Old 02-16-2013   #100
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You could be right, Sej.

I've no doubt that the Paleolithic fellers happily painting their animal artwork in the Lascaux caves some 17,000 years ago were extremely irritated when one discontented troublemaker downed tools and said '' Sod this cavepainting malarkey, I'm going to invent something more user-friendly. I'll call it canvas. Before long, every artist will be using it and I'll be rich and famous... ''

The others probably kicked his butt out of the cave, whereupon he was eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger.

It's a pity we don't know his name - he could have become the patron saint of smartarses.. !
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Old 02-16-2013   #101
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It's a pity we don't know his name - he could have become the patron saint of smartarses.. !
Human history is basically a history of smartarses forcing their will on people.

In photography as well, while Ansel Adams had turned landscape photography into a sterile science with three incomprehensible books in order to take a well-exposed photo of a tree trunk, Robert Frank with his hip shots, tilted horizons and badly exposed and grainy pictures changed photography forever and give birth to a whole new generation of photographers.

Today, the aspiring amateur could read those three books of Ansel and photograph tree trunks with great technical skill or take any camera and go out and photograph what he really wants to photograph.
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Old 02-16-2013   #102
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Originally Posted by dabick42 View Post
The invention of digital photography was a godsend to people who want their photography to be easy, with little or no physical effort or cerebral involvement.

Some of these ''enlightened'' souls even say that oldtime human judgements like exposure evaluation and focussing are best left for onboard electronics to sort out, as they ''get in the way'' of artistic appraisal and impede the immediacy of the decisive moment .. (!)

And as for spending hours in smelly darkrooms, no way, Josie !

I take some comfort in the knowledge that there are still a goodly number of other die-hard film users out there who feel as I do - that we live in an increasingly spoon-fed, computer-led world, and we're all the poorer for it...
You might take comfort in the knowledge that digital photography is not easy, and that doing it well involves a great deal of involvement with process and with critical thinking just like with any sort of photography. I remember the bad old days when folks would pop a roll of film into a auto-everything point and shoot camera, then drop it off at the drugstore only to complain they did not like how their pictures "came out."
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Old 02-16-2013   #103
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@ upceci ...

It's pointless, even unwise, to compare the talents of Adams and Frank.

The only similarity between them is that in both cases their work was captured on film and printed in a darkroom.

Each has his admirers and devotees. Each has his place in photographic legend. Each did his own thing in his own way.

That's what photography is all about.

Isn't it .. ?
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Old 02-16-2013   #104
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In photography as well, while Ansel Adams had turned landscape photography into a sterile science with three incomprehensible books in order to take a well-exposed photo of a tree trunk.
Actually I found those three books to be a little simplistic, and while i get your point about shooting from the hip, there is no correct way to make an image per se, as the 'science' is unfortunately tied up in making photographs ; this has become increasingly important as we embrace digital.
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Old 02-16-2013   #105
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Thanks. The Monochrom is a very practical camera for me...
I know what you meant, which was a comment on the workflow and the experience, etc., rather than a comment on price-to-performance ratio. Nevertheless I was laughing out loud to see the word "practical" applied to a $8000 camera!

--Dave
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Old 02-16-2013   #106
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@ Pablito ...

I follow your reasoning but I still maintain that digital image capture devices have dumbed down photography to the dumbest level possible so as to enable the dumbest amongst us to take ever more dumb photographs.

I concede that digital cameras are used by professional photographers blessed with far higher skills than I possess, but that doesn't alter the fact that I've yet to see a monkey successfully load a Barnack Leica, whereas it's easy to imagine the same animal making a successful living with a digital camera after a couple of minutes tuition... !
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Old 02-16-2013   #107
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I have the same difficulty on occasion, Sej, especially when trying to see any artistic merit or $4.3 million value in Gursky's riverside concoction, for example, an image that drew paeans of praise from some RFFers, but which had me equating it to a child's daub on a kindergarten art class wall.

It's a good thing I don't make a living from art - I'd starve...
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Old 02-16-2013   #108
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Hello willie_901,
I've been out in very cold conditions shooting with a D7000 and had both my batteries die within the day, frustrating to say the least. I tried keeping the battery "not in use" warm in my pocket but eventually they were both useless as well as the camera and lenses I was carrying around and I wasn't near a power source. At that point I retrieved my M6 and a couple of lenses and finished my work. The extreme cold conditions weren't in the forecast and I expected more out of the batteries. I will have to make further investment in batteries and equipment in order to have the capabilities the M6 and couple of lenses gave me that day. (I always carry plenty of film where ever I go, it's relatively cheap and light weight insurance and I can't leave the M6 at home ))
I agree that extreme cold weather significantly impacts Li battery life. So do other things like storage life and the number of usage cycles.

I have had film become brittle and jam and I have seen static electricity artifacts on film rewound in extreme cold.

Extreme conditions are... well extreme. Both film and digital photographers can have trouble.
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Old 02-17-2013   #109
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@ sonof...

I spent a few moments wading through your post, picking my way carefully through the verbiage hoping to find at least one nugget of photographic nous that I hadn't previously been aware of, but in vain, alas.

What IS obvious, though, is that your take on matters photographic is a lightyear or two away from my own, and for that I am somewhat thankful...
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Old 02-17-2013   #110
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. . . One cannot "dumb down" "photography" any more than one can make photography "smarter".
. . .
Dear Shane,

It's not even clear that one can "dumb down" debate on the subject, as most of the really stupid arguments have already been made decades ago. Great examples occurred at the introduction of 35mm, the widespread adoption of meters (especially through-lens), auto-exposure...

Quite a few of the arguments, good and bad, can be grouped under the following heads:

1 Purely reactionary. These can also embrace stupidity, of which the most impressive example is always "I don't understand this, therefore it's stupid." Reaction and stupidity can be applied equally to technical features and artistic movements, and may be combined with the attention span of a goldfish.

2 Depression that hard-won technical skills can be by-passed by advances in technology. In fact, they can't, because unless you are willing to rely on luck and the law of averages, you still need to know what you're doing, and when you can and can't rely on the automation.

3 "I don't need this, therefore nobody needs it" (fast films, high ISO, digital...)

4 Sour grapes and envy.

5 General malaise, probably related to "affluenza". As Galbraith points out, the poor man does not need to agonize and analyze. He knows what he needs -- food, a dry roof over his head -- and therefore has the simple goals of relieving his needs. The rich man, by contrast, is always concerned with the best way to spend his money. Alas, there is little evidence that intelligence increases with affluence.

There may be more, but these will do for a start.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-17-2013   #111
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5 General malaise, probably related to &quot;affluenza&quot;.
R.
I'd say the malaise is due to the fact that photography has become everyone's game, and therefore it no longer feels glamorous and cool as it did before.

People like to feel cool and special by an activity that they have invested time and money in. Once that cool feeling is gone, naturally it becomes all about blame game, disparaging those who have embraced change, resentment of technology and basically being miserable.
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Old 02-17-2013   #112
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@ upceci ...

I've been practicing photography as a hobby with great enjoyment for 50 years and I've experienced many emotions whilst doing so.

Challenge and frustration, delight and deflation, admiration and annoyance, I've had them all, but glamorousness and coolitude ? - nah, that's for hairdressers and premier league footballers ... (!)
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Old 02-17-2013   #113
Roger Hicks
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Originally Posted by upceci View Post
I'd say the malaise is due to the fact that photography has become everyone's game, and therefore it no longer feels glamorous and cool as it did before.

People like to feel cool and special by an activity that they have invested time and money in. Once that cool feeling is gone, naturally it becomes all about blame game, disparaging those who have embraced change, resentment of technology and basically being miserable.
You could be right, but how many of us took up photography because it was glamorous and cool?

Quite honestly, if someone took it up only because they saw it as glamorous and cool, I'd say that they don't need photography, and photography doesn't need them. Change is nothing to do with it, unless you are terminally superficial and therefore can't handle either changing, or sticking with what you want to do. Which option you choose is irrelevant to whether you want to go on taking pictures -- and therefore irrelevant to whether you are a photographer or not.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-18-2013   #114
KM-25
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Funny how different we all are Shane, I have only been using 4x5 for a year but have stocked over 3,000 sheets of film and also use a ton of medium format, got a commission to shoot for a high end hotel, all hand printed black and white this week....and I have been shooting digital for nearly 20 years in my career, my D800 will probably be the last digi-cam I buy.

We are all at different stages of the craft, hobby or career. I am really grateful to have the ability to be able to dump digital nearly entirely now because of all the hard work I have done. After using both mediums for as long as I have, making a choice to use one over the other because you simply like one more than the other rather than some tired technical argument is at the very least, liberating and can be life and career defining....

It's paying off huge for me and I am a much happier photographer doing things my way, not doing what the hype machine tells me.

But the hype machine, every blog post, article or rumor that spells the death of darkness, what a waste and what a shame...film based photography takes a royal beating in the public eye, the phrase "Can you still get film for that?" Being as common as the greeting "How are you today?"
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Old 02-18-2013   #115
Calzone
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Originally Posted by Roger Hicks View Post
Highlight 1: Why were your development and exposure inconsistent? These are not difficult to master.

Highlight 2: Scanning? Well, that's why I still have a proper darkroom.

Highlight 3: So are many of us. Which is why many of us still prefer film.

Highlights 4/5: So is film. If you can't handle/don't like film, fine, but at least allow those of us who prefer film to insult you the same way you insult us.

Cheers,

R.
Roger,

Thanks for the post. You directly stated much of what I wanted to say.

I'm right behind you, but know that I put off having a proper darkroom until a later date. Nothing like a wet print.

Meanwhile I still intend on continuing shooting as much film as I can.

Cal
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