Bill Pierce
Nuts & Bolts

Learning the Craft

First things first. David Snider is moving on. Since the beginning of this web site, David has taken all the material from all the crazy, always late and often totally uncommunicative contributers and turned it into the binary gem we call the digital journalist. He's done it with graciousness and warmth. And he has done this at times when any other sensible human would have nuked the people around him. To say that we wish him well in his new adventures is an understatement.

"And now for something totally different." Last week, Bill Foley spoke and showed pictures to an audience of fellow photographers at the Julia Dean Workshops. The brochure told me Bill Foley is a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist with 26 years of experience and a creative editorial and corporate photographer who has worked in 47 countries. He is also an old friend. In fact, together, we were taken prisoner and had the crap beaten out of us in Lebanon. It was good preparation for today's world of professional photography.

Today, many people prepare for a career in professional photography by going to "photography school." The Julia Dean Workshops and other workshops like it are a form of education that offer everything from presentations like Foley's to courses that run from several days to several weeks, sometimes combined with travel to appropriate locations.

That seems a proper amount of time to learn some aspect of a craft that used to be learned by working as an apprentice or an assistant - or just by hanging out with a smarter photographer. I have my doubts about spending the years you would go to college learning the craft of photography. It seems a bit like going to university to learn to touch type.

It also seems a waste of those few years that precede the period where you have to earn the rent money and discretionary free time is diminished. College and equivalent educations are meant to teach you to think. The study of literature, sociology, art, civil engineering or psychology are about what is in front of your camera - a far bigger world than the one that runs from the front of your lens to the back of your ears.

Thus, when someone says I went to the University of Recreational Studies and majored in photojournalism my thoughts are (1) Why? (2) How? and (3) You poor S.O.B.. You've got a lot of catching up to do.

I've mentioned before the editor who said to me, "I'll teach them photojournalism in 6 weeks. What education can they bring to the job that makes them special?" He's hiring, and he doesn't seem too impressed with the photojournalism degree.

Does this mean that college classes in photography are the devil's trap for the youth of the world? No. The University of Missouri at Columbia always impressed me. The journalism majors took more electives in other subjects than they did in their major. Harvard had (and may still have) one of the great photography courses, taught by working stiffs like Susan Meiselas and Gilles Peress. Many more applied than could fit in the classroom. The catch? It was not a credit course.

When I first came to New York, I got a part time job at the Museum of Modern Art. At that time, it was THE museum for photography, but you learned just as much about photography looking at paintings, drawings and sculpture.

The Metropolitan usually has some exceptional photography exhibits. But I don't think that I have ever gone there to just look at the photographs. There is too much to look at. In some of the exhibit halls where the art has not changed for a long time, I look at the people looking at the art. Just keeping your eyes open is an education.

Between your friends, museums, books, workshops, films e.t.c., you can keep on learning about the craft of photography forever. Society gives us a brief period of time free from a lot of other obligations to learn about something more important. Don't waste it on photography.

Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer

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