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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 02-19-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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What camera do you use, and, more important, why do you use it? I started out with a 4x5 Speed Graphic that the local Associated Press photographer got a discount on. It was the standard “news photographer” camera, and I was the photographer for the high school newspaper. My father came back from a trip to Germany with a 35mm Zeiss Contax IIIa with a 50mm Sonnar. The AP photographer said, “What are you going to do with that? Take pictures in a courtroom?” Sneaking “miniature” cameras into courtrooms was an occasional news photographer practice.

But the little camera became a favorite. When I came to New York, Leica, the other leading maker of 35mm, rangefinder cameras, would give “loaners” to some photographers. It was a little like a drug dealer handing out samples at the playground. And I got hooked. It should be said on Leitz’s behalf, they made the cameras that were used as salesmen’s demonstrators and at trade shows available to young photographers for a scant $200. They barely qualified as used, and a number of us could afford to build a working rig. The bright line finder, the high speed lenses that helped with the less-than-high-speed high speed films of the day and the fact that you could carry a full range of gear in a shoulder bag made them a better news rig than the 4x5 Graphic with its one slow lens that meant a lot of flash photography and a lot of cropping. In truth, in many areas of photography, the versatile and convenient small camera was making inroads. When the SLR, which added close ups and long lenses to the convenient list, came along, 35mm was fully accepted as a professional tool.

I added Canon SLR’s to my bag. Eddie Adams won a Canon SLR in a contest. He showed it to me, and it focused in the same direction as my Leicas. Nikon focused in the opposite direction. That simple delay of asking which direction do I turn this lens could be a disastrous delay in the world of news photography; so, I chose Canon over Nikon for just that reason and bought Eddie’s camera from him for $10.

So, that’s why when the world turned digital, I went with a Leica M8 and a Canon DSLR. I went through 3 M8’s before I got one that worked out of the box. In spite of that, I use an M10 today. I have too many lenses and too many years that have made the camera an extension of me. I can use it without thinking - or at least not thinking about the camera. And that’s why I use a Leica.

I also use Fuji. That’s right, I started with a Leica-like, bright frame findered X-100, moved to the X Pro 1 rangefinder lookalike and eventually to a full line of their current APS-C cameras. I still use the M for personal work, but the “professional” work is done with the Fujis, in no small part because they have a second back up card in case of card failure. And what about a “big sensor“ - two old sheet film cameras - a Speed Graphic (with a better lens than the “kit” lens and an 8x10 view. At those film sizes an Imacon scan of the 4x5 is spectacular as is an economical Epson V750 scan of the 8x10. They’re not used much and spend most of their time resting in the studio. But when they do, they have no problem competing with the big buck big sensor digitals.

So, why do I choose the cameras I use? It looks like HABIT to me. I’m still reverting to that Contax IIIa or maybe that first Leica M3 only in digital form with cameras that are comfortable to me.

More important, why do you use the cameras that you do? I hope it’s for a more intelligent, image specific reason than mine of being comfortable.
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