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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 02-05-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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Having spent a large amount of my time as a news photographer and loving almost every moment of it, I think this is an interesting and on target article. And, sadly, I have to agree with the criticism and look to the future. See what you think. I'd love to hear from you, especially from those who look at news pictures, but don't take them.

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Old 02-05-2019   #2
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I'm not sure about Allan Toynbee's quote (‘(it)is just one damn thing after another’). I think W. C. Fields said the same thing in the 30s or 40s. But I had never thought about 'photojournalism' until this forum. I suppose the first bit of this genre I remember was photos of kids from Biafra in the 50s. But the real impact, for me, was post JFK assassination with photos of Oswald getting it in Dallas. Still, I really never thought about photojournalists manipulating society. But like Toynbee and Fields I never paid much attention to photojournalist, it was just one damn thing after another.
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Old 02-05-2019   #3
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There is no shortage of subject matter. The problem is on the demand side.
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Old 02-05-2019   #4
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OP did serious work to find some extra long writing on wordpress. But...

100 years ago or now, no diffrence.
Pictures might be taken or might be restricted from taking.

Nothing changed from this perspective and nothing changed in human nature.

Everyone wants to see it from trusted sources.
Some trusts pictures from magazines sold before cash register.
Some trust pictures and narrative by RT.
Some trust CNN and other left media agenda (boys and older native recent case)
And some are willing to subscribe and pay for Vice.

Demand for truth, selfillusion and for manipulating hasn't changed.

Super bowl has one advertisement this year.
About photo journalism. People are still risking for it.

And people like Georgy Romanov are still saving money and going to Japan alone, with sleep tent and bicycle to take pictures and tell the story.

And our local newspaper camera guy is at every event and yesterday I liked another local media.
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Old 02-05-2019   #5
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The two ways to look at articles like this are at face value and/or what's the agenda.

Lewis Bush has an agenda... "I start from the standpoint that power is always problematic because its natural resting state is arbitrary and untransparent. Irrespective of the intentions of the people and institutions possessing it, this is the state to which power constantly seeks to return."

The mission of "World Press Photo" (based in Amsterdam) and its online magazine "Witness" is to promote "new thinking and new talent in visual journalism and storytelling. ... Connecting the world to the stories that matter" via "photojournalism, documentary photography, infographics, interactives, multimedia, video journalism—and things that have not yet been invented."

History is only relevant as seen in the context of today and I prefer my intake of the four W's via the still photo and text rather than video... I do tune in the news on TV (NHK & BBC), but more often than not I just listen while doing other work.

PJ, like other reporting has never been unbiased... it's definitely not the reason for a so called "decline" in still photography reporting and in the end that's not problematic, rather it's the nature of the beast best taken with a grain of salt or a glass of red. For all his dithering, Lewis Bush finally makes his point...

Who [and what] are we photographing, and why?
How are we photographing these things, and why?
Who are we photographing for?
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Old 02-05-2019   #6
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Originally Posted by shimokita View Post
Who [and what] are we photographing, and why?
How are we photographing these things, and why?
Who are we photographing for?
There is nothing specific to photojournalism in the analysis presented in the article. The above quote from the article, which sums up the questions that the author thinks need (new) answers, apply to any form of journalism, reporting, even simple story telling.

I doubt the answers we photographers would come up with would differ from the answers other types of reporters would give. Why would they, after all photojournalism is journalism using photography as a medium, not as an end by itself.

- N.
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Old 02-05-2019   #7
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I look at this as an unintended consequence to the changes in investments/markets over the past 40 years. As private owners of news sources sell their companies and they become publicly traded companies now answering to a board and thousands of stock holders. They now are not only competing with other papers, stations, or any other news source now they compete with Apple, Amazon, or mutual funds for investment dollars.

As the internet decimated advertising in print media cutbacks came to writers, editors and yes photojournalists. We are starting to find a new balance with paywalls going up to create a electronic access subscription. It will take about four years or so for this approach top help stabilize funding existing and new news sources.

It sucks, but it’s called the dark side of capitalism.

Who, same folks we always have been, those who make the news and those impacted by the event.
How are we, the same old way but thousands of folks with smart phones around the world.
For whom, in some cases subscribers, web site viewer, a much wider audience see more than they ever had before.

B2 (;->
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Old 02-06-2019   #8
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Here’s some additional information as to digital media.

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Old 02-06-2019   #9
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My first question is who are we photographing, and why?
Sorry but those are two questions...
Aside from the writing like this, and ignoring the prologue's...confusion, maybe? about dates, I think the several questions he wants to ask about photojournalism are the same questions that should be asked about any other journalism.
I really only disagree with this:
Mass audiences still matter, but in the face of these changes to democracy we need to also make photojournalism to become more targeted, to appropriate the personalisation and fragmentation which has done so much damage to the media landscape and use it perhaps for some good instead.
This would be a serious mistake--or, rather, is a serious mistake. I think this splintering of news and information is happening now, has been for a while, and is a large part of what stokes the divisions I see here in the US, at least. A bigger part is, I'm convinced, that adults who should know better aren't very clear on what is news and what is opinion.


You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
--Mark Twain
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Old 02-06-2019   #10
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I was reading the old farts thread the other day and it occurred to me how truly nice it is to have old hands like yourself and a few others right there easy access and actively working and thinking of and promoting the community. Cameras and snaps...yeah!
Art is the ability to make something...even if it is a big mess...
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Old 02-10-2019   #11
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Hey Bill, I've refrained from responding to this thread because you asked for responses "from those who look at news pictures, but don't take them."

But I stumbled across an article today in the NYT that I think expands on some of the points from the one you posted, or at least makes certain points in your article clearer for me. I read the article you linked to and it raised a number of questions that I did not know how to answer. Still don't, but when I read this piece in the NYT, it felt like it was along the lines of what you posted. Still confused, but starting to see more clearly what your article was referring to.


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