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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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Capa
Old 02-24-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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Capa

I received an email from Robin Moyer. Robin is based abroad, but we worked together when he was based in America and when we were both covering the war in Lebanon. This is what he says.

“Can I assume you’ve seen A. D. Coleman’s (rather personal) attack on the story of Capa’s D-Day film “melting.” in an overheated film drying cabinet, which cabinet’s “doors were closed” when they were “usually kept open.”

https://petapixel.com/2019/02/16/deb...ci1dPgCaRmTgNU

In my limited experience, film does not “melt.”*In your experience, under what circumstances during the processing of rolls of film would it “melt?” What possibly could happen? Very hot wash water would undoubtedly cause a problem. But hot air?

Meantime, hope all’s well with you. News please.

My love to Judith.

Albest,
Robin”

If you have read A.D. Coleman’s article, this was my reply.

I’ve dealt very briefly with both Coleman and Baumann, quite a while back and not enough to make an informed comment, but, at least on a superficial level, I thought at that point they both were understandably a little more into their own status than John Morris and Cornell Capa who already had enough stature to not worry about it. You know from your own experience that in war photography there is a lot of genuine heroism and courage and a lot of genuine bull****. Out of that come some tales that might make us a touch wiser. I always thought that the Capa tale was about the long path between starting a worthwhile story and having it reach others. I don’t think film “melts” in a drying cabinet, but I think the emulsion can get screwed up. I have no idea what happened, don’t really care and don’t think John had the access to the London darkroom to know first hand exactly what happened. I don’t think he is a liar. And I think the importance of the picture is that it reinforces the sometimes obscured truth that soldiers are often brave and war can be fairly rough on them. I don’t know what you gain by “debunking” that.

I’ve known John as more than an editor since he set out to make Gene Smith’s life a little more pleasant after Minamata. I saw him on his last trip to the States before he died. He was a physical mess and he was still working away on projects, not whining and wanting to know what all of us were doing. I thought this is a very good man.

Early in the game I got asked to be one of the judges for the National Press Photographers selection of pictures of the year. I was the newbie. Cornell was the senior superstar. He sat next to me and very consciously engaged me in discussions about the pictures - in effect protecting me from being thought of as a beginner twit by the more established news photographers and editors who were judges. He did a lot of other kind things over the years. When he only had a few weeks to live, he signed a picture of Clark Gable and Marilyn Munroe in the Misfits saying that he didn’t think he would be able to do so in a few weeks. The next time you visit, you’ll see that picture on the wall.

Whenever we look back on lives there are going to be different remembrances from different people, but I thinks it’s bull**** to attack these two people and Robert Capa.

Stay in touch. Miss seeing you.

Bill
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Old 02-24-2019   #2
peterm1
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"........ut I thinks it’s bull**** to attack these two people and Robert Capa"

My point is so what if the films were not damaged in the laboratory but instead were blurred in the shock of heavy combat by Capa? Omaha beach was a hell scene - that is matter of historical record with the US 1st and 29th Divisions taking 2000 casualties on Omaha beach alone. Even if the author's claim is true that the sector where he landed was "relatively" less intense those figures sound pretty damned intense to me.

Having said that, I should add that I tend to think the supposition that this was Capa's cause is unlikely as it happens - why would all the images be blurred in an identical manner if this were so? If I blur several images they each look quite unique. If these were blurred when hanging in the drying cabinet then they would look the same as they would all be hung in the same manner. And furthermore, it was not as if Capa had never been in combat before - he had - both in Spain and during WW2 I think. So that idea on the whole seems a little less plausible to me).

I also seem to recall that when the images were published for the first time the reason given by Life for their condition was that Capa had blurred them when they were made. Capa objected strongly to this calumny and Life later fessed up to its own error. Which rather to me suggests the truth - the publisher told a superficially believable story to its readership perhaps because it is more dramatic than the real reason - a rather prosaic laboratory error. This is the kind of obfuscation and inaccuracy by the media which is something we hear almost every day these days so it would not surprise me if the same sort of think happened back then particularly in the heat of war when there are deadlines to be met.
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Old 02-24-2019   #3
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"In my limited experience, film does not “melt.”*In your experience, under what circumstances during the processing of rolls of film would it “melt?” What possibly could happen? Very hot wash water would undoubtedly cause a problem. But hot air?"

I had the unfortunate experience of film emulsion dissolving away in a stainless steel tank full of 4 reels of 35mm film (HP 5) that sat undeveloped in a hot and humid summer environment for a couple of months till I got around to developing the film.
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Old 02-24-2019   #4
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Originally Posted by peterm1 View Post
the real reason - a rather prosaic laboratory error
I did black and white darkroom work for more than 34 yrs and there is no way film blurs during processing or drying. To my eyes, Capa's film looks like it either got wet as he was shooting (or after), or it was wound wrong on the developing reel and ended up touching in places while developing.

The PBS documentary "American Photography, 1900-2000" has Morris stating that the "lad" in the lab inadvertently over-heated the film while drying. To my ears, that was b.s. and should never had made it past the cutting room floor.
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Old 02-24-2019   #5
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Hi Bill;

I'm rarely on the site these days. But, when i am, i always check to see what you have written. I've been reading your stuff for years, going back to Camera 35.

I spent about half an hour with Gene Smith when he was in San Francisco, just months before he died. He was very interested in seeing that young photographers got off on the correct path. You're doing the same, I only wish you had a much larger readership.

Thanks for taking the time to write for this site. You're it's gem.

Best, pkr
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Old 02-24-2019   #6
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I think this is a case of 'Print The Legend" syndrome.
The shots were made by Capa, right?
No one disputes that Capa shot them on D-Day, right?
I see no Capa scandal here.
I also see no emulsion melting off the film base. Not now, not 40 years ago when I first read the 'explanation' in some magazine, probably LIFE or one of the photo mags of the day.
I do see the owners/promoters of the photos making up false but technical-sounding explanations as to why some of Capa's D-day shots are blurry.
I think I know why they're blurry: Because he was being shot at.
Seems pretty simple to me.
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Old 02-24-2019   #7
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A quote from "Blood and Champagne" a biography of Capa (unauthorised I think and hence with no ties to Capa's family or Magnum) in which Picture Editor, John Morris of Life magazine recalls his experiences relating to the famous D Day negatives (4 rolls of 35mm and some MF rolls too - though the latter only ship borne background shots, not taken to the beaches according to the book):

(p129) "Life's darkroom staff went to work, hoping to beat the next morning's 9.00 am deadline. Hans Wild called Morris as soon as the 35mm had been exposed (note: presumably author of the book means "developed"). Capa had done a superb job under terrible conditions and with only limited light. "I need contacts" Morris ordered. "Rush,rush,rush,rush". A few minutes later one of the assistants, Dennis Banks leapt up a flight of stairs and ran into Morris' office. He was in tears. "They're ruined" he blurted. "Ruined, Capa's films are all ruined". "What do you mean?" asked Morris. "You were in such a hurry" replied Banks, "I put it in a drying cabinet and closed the doors."............ Morris ran down to the darkroom with Dennis. He held up four rolls, one at a time. "I couldn't see anything" Morris recalls "Just grey mud. But on the fourth there were eleven frames that could be printed and I printed every single one of them"........"

If someone would like to present actual evidence rather than conjecture that this did not happen or that Wild, Banks and Morris were lying about what happened then I would be pleased to hear it.

A later paragraph (p130) reports Life's words when the pictures were published. "Capa's pictures appeared in Life on 19 June across seven pages beside perhaps the magazine's most famously understated strap line: "THE FATEFUL BATTLE FOR EUROPE IS JOINED BY SEA AND AIR" Life informed its astonished readers. "The picture above and those on the next six pages were taken by Life photographer Robert Capa who went in with the first wave of troops. Although the first reports of the landings indicated little opposition, his pictures show how violent the battle was and how strong the German defences"

It seems that Capa was slated to go in with the first (or maybe second) wave but in the event his landing was a little delayed so Life was technically wrong in that respect though it appears he did still go in on a relatively early wave when the battle was still underway in earnest - as shown by the tidal conditions obvious in his pictures. I can only surmise that early reports of "little opposition" refers to other beaches (Gold, Juno Sword, Utah) since on Omaha the beach was violently defended from first almost to last - at least till the remnants of the landing force got off the beach and began wiping out the defenders on high ground.

So, there are some armchair theorizers including the author of the original article questioning Capa but I remain unconvinced that there are any serious holes in the original story in the absence of any real evidence.

PS On the subject of whether film emulsion will "melt" in extreme heat conditions there have been some here say that they have never known it to happen and I respect that.

But I wonder if they have considered that this might not have been caused by the emulsion melting, but rather the film base melting. Back in the day, film stock would have certainly been celluloid (cellulose) based, not a more modern stable and safe film stock which came in after 1951. The film used by Capa might have been either highly dangerous and flammable cellulose nitrate or the more safe substitute introduced in the 1930s made from cellulose triacetate - probably the latter I would suggest given its date of introduction to the market. In either event celluloid based film is inherently unstable and are what are known as thermoplastic - "A thermoplastic, or thermosoftening plastic, is a plastic polymer material that becomes pliable or moldable at a certain elevated temperature and solidifies upon cooling" (Wikipedia - Thermoplastic) In short it behaves exactly as described by Banks and Morris.

I am not sure if people on this site would have experience of processing either types at all, (let alone applying extreme heat to them to see if they melt and become unstable before they either ignite or completely melt away) but I think it is pretty safe to say that it seems likely that at least most of the processing experienced by people on this site has been of the modern stable type of film which came in after the early 1950s.
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Old 02-24-2019   #8
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Mid morning on June 6th, Ike was contemplating to abandon Omaha due to the heavy resistance and high casualties.
So I definitely don't buy into the 'relative easy' part. Certainly when Capa came in on the 13th Wave around 8:15. The beach was still heavily contested.
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Old 02-24-2019   #9
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Whatever the cause Capa should be thankful for it without the damage his photographs wouldn't have had half the impact they had. The grittiness, shake, etc.. add tremendously to the pictures, without them they would still be decent photographs but not as iconic.
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Old 02-25-2019   #10
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None of us know for sure. I've read enough of the biographies to know many facts surrounding Capa were cloudy, many of them due to Capa's own penchant for BS. All the clamor about what did or did not happen and who was involved is not really much of an issue today. I just look at the photos.
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Old 02-25-2019   #11
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I thoroughly echo the comments of PKR. Thank you, Bill, for all your work for the forum and for letting us have your thoughtful and wise comments about the original article. I agree with them completely.

What I find so offensive about Coleman’s article is its tone. He could quite as easily have made all his points in a neutral, academic and clear way without the personal hostility, which to my mind is not only insulting to those he is challenging but which demeans himself and lessens any rational force the article might otherwise have had.

As to what happened, there is another possibility that I think might well have taken place in the highly emotional circumstances of the processing, remembering that these were the first negatives to be processed from early waves of a much anticipated massive invasion to defeat a monstrous regime, and when massive casualties were expected and the possibility of total failure was uppermost in people’s minds.

Supposing the processing had gone entirely normally without any departure from standard practice. Then, people would have said something like “Oh no, there must’ve been something wrong with Bob’s camera or he’s slipped up under the stress of coming under intensive fire in a real battle, because only a few of the pictures have come out!”. There would have been nothing wrong in admitting this, and I’m sure the people involved would have done so.

But supposing the processing had not gone entirely normally, that in the highly charged emotional circumstances of the processing and need for speed, some departure from normal processing had occurred (such as cabinet doors set wrong, or temperature setting forgotten or something else unusual), then when the negatives were taken out and looked at it would have been very easy in these circumstances for the lad or John Morris or anybody else involved directly at that particular point in time, to make the wrong assumption that the departure from normal processing had caused the negative problems. And then once this false connection was made, a connection that nevertheless seemed in the heat of the moment to be correct, it would have been natural not to question it at the time. They had other and very pressing work to do, to get the negatives out to the news media and the public. And then those involved, even if they did think about it later, would have realised that finding the true cause (whether faulty camera, sea water, short time on beach, pinned down under accurate fire, or whatever) was entirely irrelevant – all that matters was that they had 11 or so frames from the early assault waves taken by a highly talented and courageous photographer. In the cold light of day we can spend longer analysing the situation but it certainly wasn’t like that when those films were removed from the drying cabinet.
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Old 02-25-2019   #12
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All we really know is that he was there, he took some photos, and some were ruined before, during, or after development (or not taken). Either way, the photos he got were fantastic.
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Old 02-25-2019   #13
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Either way, the photos he got were fantastic.
Only within the historical context, which I respect; but the photographs themselves are mediocre by most visual standards of that time period.
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Old 02-25-2019   #14
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this is a great example of how the story isn't under the photographer's, or really anyone's, control. Mythologised or not, I doubt anyone was concocting a plan to sell film rangefinders, or books, or youtube advertising in 70 years time based on where Capa stood or didn't, what some dudes were doing near some steel (in detail, not in the "Invading France" sense...) etc. Memory is ****, you can tell someone you're going to disrupt their memory of an event with some simple undergrad psych tricks and they'll still swear blind an event happened the way it didn't. I've stood on most of "the Normandy beaches" and from some of the cliffs you feel you could spit in the ocean: it's bloody rich to equate "less hairy" with "safe". And then what of telling the story? Should Capa's photos have been captioned "No one dead in Normandy assault: Headquarters company does job while elsewhere shooting might be worse"? What do you do if you're in the aftermath of a gas attack in Syria in 2018 but no-one's face has melted off? This is the sort of thing war correspondents, and their editors, navigate I suppose, but there are always going to be naysayers (or the Russian Embassy's hilarious twitter account). The details of the D-Day story sure do sound like a load of BS but so what? JFK wasn't a faithful family man, Lance was on the gear and pick your favourite film/tv producer not yet proven to be a creeper and wait...

Fair enough people aggrandising themselves on a lie might grind your gears, misrepresented soldiers have a right to be correctly identified but is it surprising that someone who puts their hand up to spend any amount of time on a battlefield (even the "safe" bit) with a camera is a bit up themselves or prone to make the most of their experience? At least he didn't shoot it portrait on an iPhone X...
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Old 02-25-2019   #15
Peter Wijninga
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My interpretation of the OP's post: Cornell Capa was a kind and decent guy and it's bull**** to ''attack'' his brother, Robert Capa. Very enlightening. Not.
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Old 02-25-2019   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Saul View Post
Only within the historical context, which I respect; but the photographs themselves are mediocre by most visual standards of that time period.
How do you view historical photos of an historic event without historical context? If you take them out of context all his photos are mediocre. But then so are HCB's for example, and most if not all early "documentary" photographers as well. It's all context.
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Old 02-25-2019   #17
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There are two related issues regarding whether or not the film drying apparatus was too hot or the film was left to dry for two long (or both).

" I don’t think film “melts” in a drying cabinet, but I think the emulsion can get screwed up."

I agree.

I also agree with peterm1's comments about the properties of thermoplastic materials. The melting would does not have to be obvious to the naked eye to cause problems. In thermodynamics changes in micro-domains are well known. Physical chemists use calorimetry to understand changes in physical properties due to micro-domain melting. I have no idea of film layers from the 1940s could be susceptible to micro-domain melting. At the same time, it seems plausible. And the longer the film was at an elevated temperature the more serious the damage would become.

Film has several layers. It's not unreasonable to assume excessive heat and, or long exposure to above average drying heat could affect these layers differently. This would not be melting. It would be a deformation.

There is no reason to assume the temperature in the cabinet was uniform. Film closer to the heating elements would have been warmer than film further away.

The difference between hot water and hot air in terms of thermal stability is could be significant. Once difference is related to heat transfer efficiency. Other involve chemical reactions and, or physical chemistry changes due to water. But, if the problem was due to simple expansion or thermoplastic distortion, the source of the heat energy doesn't matter that much.

Contemporary experience with film drying means nothing. Who uses a film drying cabinet identical to the one used in 1944?[1] Modern film formulations are different than those used in the 1940s. Exposure to drying temperatures below the those that cause damage film won't affect film over a period of many hours.

Think of a candle. Even when the temperature is just 10% below the wax's melting point the candle will retain its shape for the short term. But over a period of days or weeks the candle's shape will change. Increase the temperature to within 1% of the wax's melting point. Because the chemical composition of the wax is heterogeneous, micro-domain melting will occur. Also, the candle will change shape after a much shorter period of time.

1. I eagerly await a post that nullifies this point from a RFF member who regularly uses a 1940's vintage film drying cabinet.
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Old 02-25-2019   #18
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Quote:
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Only within the historical context, which I respect; but the photographs themselves are mediocre by most visual standards of that time period.
This is one of the few instances where I wish I could transport someone though time and space. I wonder how any of us would perform in the circumstances Capa experienced that morning?
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Old 02-25-2019   #19
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If you'd read the above posts, you would agree that Capa's behavior on that day is not the issue. Try again.
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Old 02-25-2019   #20
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I have only used so-called "safety films" as my shutter button only started clicking in the 1980's. Having said that, I have "melted" film emulsion by using developer that was too hot. I have ruined film by using 90% alcohol as a "quick dry" final rinse -- it will read as fog on the film base. Also, gelatin can also swell and lift from the substrate if left in water too long. Sounds like a pretty impressive (although hardly exhaustive) list of foul-up, no?

I will note that most of the above are consequences of trying to speed up the development process for one reason or another. It is certainly possible that the lab staff tried something similarly ill-advised while trying to appease a fire-breathing editor. Although pure conjecture, I find that easier to believe than Capa messing up something technical in the field. The blame game is funny that way . . . it is always the other guy's fault, for one reason or another. Thanks, Bill, for a peek at history that will matter more to shutter-button-pushers than to the average person on the street.
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Old 02-25-2019   #21
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Quote:
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Only within the historical context, which I respect; but the photographs themselves are mediocre by most visual standards of that time period.
Despite some criticizing this comment, am agreeing, from my subjective and limited perspective.
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Old 02-25-2019   #22
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Bill,

As always, thanks for sharing the article and your thoughts. I have to agree it's a rather tasteless to publish with that tone. Perhaps they could have recreated the lab and run some tests, been more scientific. Over agitation seems more plausible than over heating in drying, but that's me. We've always had a lot of second guessers and one of the bad parts of the internet is now we get to hear more of them.

When we were DINKs (double income no kids) some years back Linda and I bought a couple of Eisenstaedt prints. I remember looking at the Marlene Dietrich picture (1928) and while I liked the picture was surprised at the lack of clarity compared to others. I don't remember if it was slight movement or if it was optics and frankly to me it doesn't make a difference, it's still a great picture. First wave, third wave, it matters not, IMHO he put his life on the line and helped us understand a bit of what thousands went through. Two thumbs way up and a big thank you to him and everyone to did what they did.

B2 (;->
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Old 02-25-2019   #23
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There are always those who go out and do. In the doing they build a reputation.

And then following them are always those who forego the doing and try to establish their own reputation by attacking what others have done before them.

I will leave it to you to decide who was the doer in this controversy.
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Old 02-25-2019   #24
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Robert Capa was like the rock 'n roll star of war photographers.

And yes, just like the legendary rock 'n roll stars of the 1950s and 1960s he was promoted and hyped up in his lifetime and after.

That some people try to take him down a few notches is perfectly normal, whether warranted or not, but that is the price of being made legendary and bigger than real life.
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Old 02-25-2019   #25
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"Show me a hero and I'll prove he's a bum" - Greg Boyington
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Old 02-25-2019   #26
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Quote:
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"Show me a hero and I'll prove he's a bum" - Greg Boyington
The world loves a charming cad - a bum if you like, especially from a distance. And Capa was a charmer. But here's the thing, most people who knew him seemed to like the guy too. So he really can't have been all bad. And of course he did his job, repeatedly putting himself in harm's way to get the photos. And that is something they can't take away from him though some may try.
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Old 02-25-2019   #27
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How do you view historical photos of an historic event without historical context? If you take them out of context all his photos are mediocre. But then so are HCB's for example, and most if not all early "documentary" photographers as well. It's all context.
I think you're misunderstanding my point. As an example, many of Mathew Brady's photographs have such a unique beauty to them even as they depict the horrors of our civil war. I could just respond to them as visual images complete with composition, light, tonality, and physical character and not value or contemplate the subject matter.

But just because Capa was present and making photographs in a unique historical moment does not automatically elevate everything -- or for that matter anything -- he made photographically. Hypothetically, what characteristics in Capa's images do you see that would separate his results from a very brave and talented local photographer who went to the beach at the same time with the same photographic intentions?
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Old 02-25-2019   #28
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This is one of the few instances where I wish I could transport someone though time and space. I wonder how any of us would perform in the circumstances Capa experiences that morning?
I'm sure mine would suck unless I got truly lucky and believe me, I respect the whole other perspective that being in a life or death situation just might knock you off your game.

Maybe Capa was chosen, I'm guessing, precisely because of his reputation, that he was the guy to send into the landing operation because he was the guy who would deliver the goods. As you can tell, I don't believe the results of his efforts point to anything amazing photographically.

Last edited by Saul : 02-25-2019 at 15:42. Reason: intention
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Old 02-25-2019   #29
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Robert Capa was a news photographer. This from Wikipedia...

In the early 1950s, Capa traveled to Japan for an exhibition associated with Magnum Photos. While there, Life magazine asked him to go on assignment to Southeast Asia, where the French had been fighting for eight years in the First Indochina War. Although a few years earlier he had said he was finished with war, Capa accepted and accompanied a French regiment with two Time-Life journalists, John Mecklin and Jim Lucas in Thái Bình Province. On 25 May 1954, the regiment was passing through a dangerous area under fire when Capa decided to leave his Jeep and go up the road to photograph the advance. Capa was killed when he stepped on a land mine.[4]:155[47]
He was 40 at the time of his death. He is buried in plot #189 at Amawalk Hill Cemetery (also called Friends Cemetery), Amawalk, Westchester County, New York along with his mother, Julia, and his brother, Cornell Capa
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Old 02-25-2019   #30
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From Wikipedia some of the material on Mathew Brady....

In 1844, Brady opened his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844,[6][7] and by 1845, he began to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe.

In 1850, Brady produced The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which featured noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, was not financially rewarding but invited increased attention to Brady's work and artistry.

At first, the effect of the Civil War on Brady's business was a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. Brady readily marketed to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers' images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune that warned, "You cannot tell how soon it may be too late." However, he was soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earned Brady his place in history. While most of the time the battle had ceased before pictures were taken, Brady came under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

He also employed Alexander Gardner,[12] James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom was given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the Civil War. Brady generally stayed in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visited battlefields personally.

Many of the images in Brady's collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. Brady was criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it was intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of Brady's photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken. Brady was not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in those days was still in the infancy of its technical development and required that a subject be still in order for a clear photo to be produced.

During the war, Brady spent over $100,000 to create over 10,000 plates. He expected the US government to buy the photographs when the war ended. When the government refused to do so he was forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. Congress granted Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remained deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it had ended, and so private collectors were scarce. Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, he died penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident. Brady's funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
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Old 02-25-2019   #31
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I think you're misunderstanding my point. As an example, many of Mathew Brady's photographs have such a unique beauty to them even as they depict the horrors of our civil war. I could just respond to them as visual images complete with composition, light, tonality, and physical character and not value or contemplate the subject matter.

But just because Capa was present and making photographs in a unique historical moment does not automatically elevate everything -- or for that matter anything -- he made photographically. Hypothetically, what characteristics in Capa's images do you see that would separate his results from a very brave and talented local photographer who went to the beach at the same time with the same photographic intentions?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a photograph is the intersection of talent, time, place, and intention. What elevates Capas photos is that he was there, then, with the talent required to express his intentions. What else is a photograph if not a document of a time and place taken by someone with the required talent to express their intentions. If your hypothetical photographer did not get the same pictures as Capa then their intentions were different or they weren’t talented enough to realise their intentions.

Maybe your issue is you don’t agree with his intentions?
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Old 02-25-2019   #32
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I think you're misunderstanding my point. As an example, many of Mathew Brady's photographs have such a unique beauty to them even as they depict the horrors of our civil war. I could just respond to them as visual images complete with composition, light, tonality, and physical character and not value or contemplate the subject matter.

But just because Capa was present and making photographs in a unique historical moment does not automatically elevate everything -- or for that matter anything -- he made photographically. Hypothetically, what characteristics in Capa's images do you see that would separate his results from a very brave and talented local photographer who went to the beach at the same time with the same photographic intentions?
I think there are many types of photographer and approaches to photography. For example one of my favorites who surpasses even Capa is Frank Hurley an Australian photographer who made photos on the Western Front in WW1. He had a flair for art and invention and often took some liberties with strict truth. The following image for example is a concoction made from several images - all real in themselves but this photo is arguably not because it was composited in the darkroom. Never the less it conveys in a quite cinematic way the experience of being there in a way that many photographers could not and other photos did not.



Other of his photos were not concocted in the same way but do sometimes look, perhaps, posed. Never the less they are beautiful images in their own way and extremely well done both technically and artistically.







Hurley had a knack for composition that most others lacked - and the willingness to take a hand in directing the composition in a way that war photographers are not normally supposed to. In fact once you experience his style you can often pick his work from a random bunch of photos - he was that distinctive.

Capa is entirely different (notwithstanding his famous falling soldier photo from Spain which is now said - with some justification - to have been staged). But I could not quite imagine him being able to produce Hurley's works as he had a different "eye" that captured the reality and immediacy of combat but did not result in quite so appealing works of art. Certainly they were not so clever as Hurley's efforts, but as you say, Capa was there and did get raw combat images in a way that many photographers did not. They may not be works of great art but they are very real.
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Old 02-25-2019   #33
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I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a photograph is the intersection of talent, time, place, and intention. What elevates Capas photos is that he was there, then, with the talent required to express his intentions. What else is a photograph if not a document of a time and place taken by someone with the required talent to express their intentions. If your hypothetical photographer did not get the same pictures as Capa then their intentions were different or they weren’t talented enough to realise their intentions.

Maybe your issue is you don’t agree with his intentions?
That could be, and it brings up an interesting question I don't know how to answer: beyond logistics, what would someone like Capa do prior to an assignment like this in order to "prepare" to realize, or carry out, his intentions?
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Old 02-25-2019   #34
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... They may not be works of great art but they are very real.
This speaks to the intentions. He was sent on assignment to get photos of the landing for immediate publication in the newspaper and picture magazines. He was not there to create art, he was there to show what it was like to land that morning in that place to the public. I think he did an excellent job.

My 2c on the original topic is that he landed, took a few images and having fulfilled the aims of the assignment decided to get the f outta there and live to see tomorrow. The rest of the rolls were always blank and the darkroom folk just would have assumed he'd finished the rolls and so jumped to the most obvious conclusion.
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Old 02-25-2019   #35
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Frank Hurley...He had a flair for art and invention and often took some liberties with strict truth...Never the less it conveys in a quite cinematic way the experience of being there in a way that many photographers could not and other photos did not.. they are beautiful images in their own way and extremely well done both technically and artistically.

Capa is entirely different...as he had a different "eye" that captured the reality and immediacy of combat but did not result in quite so appealing works of art.
Thank you for sharing Hurley, someone I was not aware of, as well as your graceful explanation. You've articulated my thoughts better than I can.
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Old 02-25-2019   #36
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That could be, and it brings up an interesting question I don't know how to answer: beyond logistics, what would someone like Capa do prior to an assignment like this in order to "prepare" to realize, or carry out, his intentions?
I would answer (even though I'm not sure I can) that he has prepared for it by photographing war since the Spanish Civil War, honing his skills and instincts in the process. In a situation like that however, I can't imagine sticking to the plan so to speak.
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Old 02-25-2019   #37
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I would answer (even though I'm not sure I can) that he has prepared for it by photographing war since the Spanish Civil War, honing his skills and instincts in the process. In a situation like that however, I can't imagine sticking to the plan so to speak.
Most likely true of course. But according to his biographies it was also true that immediately before assignments Capa routinely got in as much womanizing, boinking, drinking, smoking and gambling as any human being could want (and more than most could handle).

I recall reading about one of his post WW2 exploits when in Israel during the war that broke out when the new state was formed. At some point during a night when Jewish forces were expecting an attack, Capa was highlighted by searchlights in the middle of no man's land on a hillside with a beautiful young Sabra. I gather they were not discussing military strategy. (P202 Blood and Champagne).

That pretty much was Capra as I understand it. The love of his life, his muse and fellow photographer, Gerda Taro died in an accident in the Spanish civil war and I wonder if that contributed to Capa's later habit of living in the moment every day. Or perhaps, I am just romanticizing. It was certainly said of him that he went in search of death or something of this sort - I forget the exact quote. I don't think he necessarily literally had a serious death wish but I do think he liked to tickle the Grim Reaper's whiskers. He was after all an avid gambler. But first and foremost he was a photographer - a quote of his I rather like which also happens to be relevant to the discussion about the D Day photos; "What's the point of getting killed if you have got the wrong exposure?"
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Old 02-25-2019   #38
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If you take them out of context all his photos are mediocre. But then so are HCB's for example. It's all context.
Capa's photographs were artistically mediocre, but not Cartier-Bresson's. Cartier-Bresson's pictures are masterpieces of artistic photography.

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Old 02-25-2019   #39
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The following image by Frank Hurley for example is a concoction made from several images - all real in themselves but this photo is arguably not because it was composited in the darkroom.



Great picture! Hard to believe it is a concoction.


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Old 02-25-2019   #40
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lovers of WW1 pictures watch this:


https://www.flickr.com/photos/drakegoodman/
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