Bill Pierce
Nuts & Bolts

Some Random Thoughts

Random thought number one:

Relatively recently, Walter Isaacson, the new chairman of CNN, made a number of public statements about the need to broaden CNN's news coverage with more emphasis on entertainment, personal health, technology and computer coverage - and to reduce foreign and government coverage. He also spoke about changes in the CNN presentation - more personalities in the on-camera personel and more "info windows" on the screen. Among other things, he said that he wanted the news to be more "fun." In many respects, these were the television equivalents of the changes he had overseen at Time Magazine.

After the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies, Mr. Isaacson recanted, talking about the need of doing the terrorism story "seriously and reliably."

If anything, CNN was late in deciding to downsize serious news. Many of us who reported foreign news remember with great sadness the downsizing of the excellent CBS foreign coverage, downsized under the leadership of Lawrence Tisch. This was followed by the appearance of a number of soft news programs on all networks that let the networks get their money's worth out of their newly downsized news departments and their staffs.

One of the few pleasures one could take in the days following September 11 was the exceptional job done by the networks based in New York, by their Washington bureaus, by MSNBC and CNN on cable and by the New York Times.

But it will be interesting to see if the networks are willing to spend the money to rebuild the news departments, especially abroad, if viewer interest diminishes. And it will be equally interesting to see if the audience for
serious news reverts to wanting coverage of large breasts, celebrity antics and the indescretions of government officials. After all, it was this interest that finally forced CNN, the big holdout, to do "fun" news.

Random thought number two:

After the first blast at the World Trade Center, my son went to the roof of his apartment building in Brooklyn to photograph. He lives in Park Slope, not Brooklyn Heights which is closer to Manhattan. As far away as he was, papers from offices in the World Trade Center were floating down on him.

After he made the photographs, he went to the local firehouse. At the firehouse they said they needed dog food and athletic socks - dogfood for the sniffer dogs, dry socks for the fireman who were working long shifts with minimal breaks. He brought socks and dogfood to the firehouse until the relief work became more organized. Since then he has been accredited and photographed at the site. Twelve of the 27 men who were part of Squad Company One in Park Slope are missing or dead. In addition to the many firemen and policeman who rushed to the scene and are presumed dead, photographer Bill Biggart and tv cameraman Glen Petit are also presumed dead.

Random thought number three:

Twice I have photographed surgeons who at the end of operations went somewhere quiet and cried. One had operated on a family member; the other had just removed a donor organ needed to save a life and realized it was damaged and there would be no transplant. They were ice during a medical procedure in which they had to take a scalpel and cut into human flesh. And they were devestated by what they had seen. It taught me a lot about photography.

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Sarah Boxer talked about the ability of the photographer to remain objective and use his or her skill while photographing something that is horrible. She is very flattering. But, the skill is drilled into you by experience and practice. Most of your decisions aren't conscious. Photography of the trivial recquires much more conscious thought. And she left out the sadness after it is all over.

There is skill. But, if there is no sadness, then you are not far from the point where you pictures are empty excercises that touch no one.

Random thought number 4:

A good while back, someone from Kodak told me photography was the number one "secondary" hobby. There are many more people who collect stamps and take pictures or do woodworking and take pictures than stamp collectors who do woodworking. (That must be even more true now that people have digital cameras and can email pictures of the kids to the relatives.) God bless the amateurs that were in New York on September 11, tourists and amateur photographers in the area; fireman, rescue workers and doctors who arrived on the scene with a camera.

The professional photographer was on the scene just as quickly. Witness the New York Times' Chang Lee photographing the World Trade Tower exploding or an uncredited Associated Press photographer picturing fireman rushing up the stairs of the World Trade Center.

Being away from New York on that day was painful - not because I wasn't photographing, but because I wasn't there when my City was hurt. Seeing the credit lines and photographs of so many old friends and associates made me happy and sad. Seeing the exceptional pictures by New Yorkers who were not professional photographers made me proud and sad.

Random thought number five:

The ID photographs of 347 fireman and the countless family pictures posted by people looking for missing relatives.

Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer

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