Nuts & Bolts

Hooray for the Snapshot
November 2008

by Bill Pierce

All the good professional photographers that I know spend a lot of time shooting amateur photographs – well, at least photographs they don't get paid for.

Dave Kennerly photographs political figures, right? After all, "Extraordinary Circumstances," [ISBN 978-0-9766697-1-5, University of Texas Press] his record of the Ford presidency, is absolutely one of the best books in that arena. [] Try "Photo Du Jour," [ISBN 0-292-74349-1, University of Texas Press:] his earlier book, which is a picture-a-day record of David Kennerly's wandering in the year 2000. Some of the best work is of the area he lives in when he is not working. And some of the best of that is simple family snapshots.

Arthur Grace started shooting the pictures for his last book, "State Fair," [ISBN 0-292-71287-1, University of Texas Press:] when he was covering the national elections of '80, '84 and '88 and followed presidential candidates as they pumped the flesh at various fairs. Later, in 2003, he stared spending time with the farm animals, corn dogs and amusement rides without the presidential candidates. No paper or magazine is going to pay you to spend a long time photographing dogs driving motorcycles, children showing off their prize cows and grown-ups wrestling alligators.

Eric Meola started his first book without any thought that it would become a book. He would shut down his studio, keep his staff on salary and go off and photograph somewhere he, not a client, wanted to shoot. Later that became the book "Last Places on Earth." [ISBN 193202615-0, Graphis, Inc.]

When he was photographing the Bruce Springsteen album cover for "Born to Run," he was shooting a friend. The take was strong enough and varied enough, even though most of it takes place in front of a white seamless, that the take later became a book, "Born to Run: The Unseen Photos." [ISBN 1-933784-09-1, Insight Editions]

It is 10 years since Eric made his first trip to India and fell in love with it. Since he knew a book would be published of the pictures he took in 2007, I don't know whether you would call the book amateur or professional. The French origin of the word "amateur" is "lover of." So, I'm going to call "India in Word and Image" a book by an amateur. [ISBN 978-1-59962-049-7, Welcome Books]

These are amateur photographs that you can see. That's why I mention them. Most amateur photographs by professional photographers are invisible. They are of family, friends, the world around them and the edges of jobs.

Among those are going to be some of the photographers' strongest pictures, uncompromised by "How is this going to look in the newspaper, the magazine, the annual report... ?" Most won't be published in the conventional sense of the word - even though they may be exhibited at galleries or show up on the photographers' Web sites.

And among those "amateur" pictures are also ones that could be found in anybody's snapshot album. I've been lucky in that a lot of my neighbors and co-workers have been exceptional photographers, and I have had the privilege of seeing their non-exceptional pictures of girlfriends, boyfriends, spouses, children, pets, houses and travels. (Actually, they are pretty good.)

I look at my own pictures of the older, wiser, now gone photographers who helped me, the beautiful young girls who rejected me, the wise old photographers who still have some years left, the friends that covered violence and got out in time and those who didn't, the friends smart enough to avoid violence, my wife, my kids, and I realize they mean more to me than the few pictures that won prizes. As a matter of fact, I never could figure out what the judges saw in some of those pictures. Hooray for the snapshot.

This month's "picture that has nothing to do with the column," unfortunately, does have something to do with the column. It's a personal snapshot.

On various hard drives, I have 2,071 images of eight dogs who have been a part of my family.

Cole, our silly, goofy older Weim, was hit by a car last month - a blind curve on a back road with no sidewalks and a car going too fast to stop. His spine was broken. The vet was able to relieve his pain so we could spend time with him before he was put to sleep. He got snout rubs, chest tookies and kisses. At the end of an hour, he went to sleep for the last time while we hugged him.

My greatest concern is that we got the morphine into him before he came out of shock and felt pain. And that he wasn't afraid. I know he was OK for the last 30 minutes. His breathing slowed to a normal rate. He couldn't move, but he followed me with his eyes. And he got lots of pats and kisses. He always liked that.

By choice, we are bit isolated out here; so he and I spent a lot of days together. He had a lot of dog buddies (including his special girlfriend, a blue-gray husky). But we were best friends. We had good times together. I miss him.

More of Bill Pierce's pictures can be seen on the Web at

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© Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer

More of Bill Pierce's pictures can be seen on the Web at